A Brief History of Champagne

MaximFesenko/iStock via Getty Images Plus
MaximFesenko/iStock via Getty Images Plus

As midnight approaches on December 31, more than a few of us will crack open a bottle or two of champagne to help toast the New Year. With a few choice facts about the bubbly stuff, you can look knowledgeable rather than just tipsy when you drain your flute. Here are a few little nuggets you can share with fellow revelers.

What is champagne?

Strictly speaking, champagne is a sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region of northeastern France. If it's a bubbly wine from another region, it's sparkling wine, not champagne. While many people use the term champagne generically for any sparkling wine, the French have maintained their legal right to call their wines champagne for over a century. The Treaty of Madrid, signed in 1891, established this rule, and the Treaty of Versailles reaffirmed it.

The European Union helps protect this exclusivity now, although certain American producers can still generically use champagne on their labels if they were using the term before early 2006.

How is champagne made?

Sparkling wines can be made in a variety of ways, but traditional champagne comes to life by a process called the méthode Champenoise. Champagne starts its life like any normal wine. The grapes are harvested, pressed, and allowed to undergo a primary fermentation. The acidic results of this process are then blended and bottled with a bit of yeast and sugar so it can undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle. (It's this secondary fermentation that gives champagne its bubbles.) This new yeast starts doing its work on the sugar, and then dies and becomes what's known as lees. The bottles are then stored horizontally so the wine can age on lees for 15 months or more.

After this aging, winemakers turn the bottles upside down so the lees can settle in the bottle's neck. Once the dead yeast has settled, producers open the bottles to remove the yeast, add a bit of sugar known as dosage to determine the sweetness of the champagne, and slip a cork onto the bottle.

What's so special about the Champagne region?

Several factors make the chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier grapes grown in the Champagne region particularly well suited for crafting delicious wines. The northern location makes it a bit cooler than France's other wine-growing regions, which gives the grapes the proper acidity for sparkling wine production. Moreover, the porous, chalky soil of the area—the result of large earthquakes millions of years ago—aids in drainage.

Do I have to buy champagne to get good sparkling wine?

Not at all. Although many champagnes are delightful, most of the world's wine regions make tasty sparkling wines of their own. You can find highly regarded sparkling wines from California, Spain, Italy, Australia, and other areas without shelling out big bucks for Dom Pérignon.

Speaking of Dom Pérignon, who was this guy?

Contrary to popular misconception, the namesake of the famous brand didn't invent champagne. But Perignon, a Benedictine monk who worked as cellar master at an abbey near Epernay during the 17th and 18th centuries, did have quite an impact on the champagne industry. In Perignon's day, sparkling wine wasn't really a sought-after beverage. In fact, the bubbles were considered to be something of a flaw, and early production methods made producing the wine somewhat dangerous. (Imprecise temperature controls could lead to fermentation starting again after the wine was in the bottle. If one bottle in a cellar exploded and had its cork shoot out, a chain reaction would start.) Perignon helped standardize production methods to avoid these explosions, and he also added two safety features to his wines: thicker glass bottles that better withstood pressure and a rope snare that helped keep corks in place.

What's the difference between brut and extra brut champagne?

You'll see these terms on champagne labels to describe how sweet the good stuff in the bottle is. As mentioned above, a bit of sugar known as dosage is added to the bottle right before it's corked, and these terms describe exactly how much sugar went in. Extra brut has less than six grams of sugar per liter added, while brut contains less than 15 grams of additional sugar per liter. Several other classifications exist, but drier champagnes are more common.

Why do athletes spray each other with champagne after winning titles?

Throughout its history, champagne has been a celebratory drink that's made appearances at coronations of kings and the launching of ships. However, the bubbly-spraying throwdowns that now accompany athletic victories are a much more recent development. When Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt won the grueling 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1967, they ascended the winner's podium with a bottle of champagne in hand. Gurney looked down and saw team owner Carroll Shelby and Ford Motors CEO Henry Ford II standing with some journalists and decided to have a bit of fun. Gurney gave the bottle a shake and sprayed the crowd, and a new tradition was born.

This article originally appeared in 2008.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture


This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

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Whip Up Your Favorite Writer’s Favorite Cocktail With How to Drink Like a Writer

Ernest Hemingway looked even more natural with a drink in hand than a pen in hand.
Ernest Hemingway looked even more natural with a drink in hand than a pen in hand.
Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche/Getty Images

Though Ernest Hemingway never actually uttered “Write drunk; edit sober,” he spent enough hours on a barstool to imply that his work was at least partially inspired by all that booze—and he’s definitely not the only one. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Hunter S. Thompson, and countless other iconic writers had a soft spot for a stiff drink, too.

While you won’t discover the secret to penning the next great American novel at the bottom of the bottle, sipping your favorite author’s favorite cocktail could help get your creative juices flowing. In How to Drink Like a Writer, from Apollo Publishers, you’ll find recipes for the go-to drinks of 100 literary heavyweights, from Truman Capote’s signature screwdriver—which he fondly referred to as “my orange drink”—to Raymond Carver’s Bloody Mary, his hair of the dog after alcohol-infused nights with pal (and University of Iowa colleague) John Cheever.

how to drink like a writer cover image
Humans have two hands so we can hold a pen in one and a drink in the other.
Apollo Publishers/Amazon

You can order your copy of How to Drink Like a Writer for $19 from Amazon, and while you wait for your book to arrive, take a look at three of the famed literary cocktails below.

Charles Bukowski’s boilermaker.

There’s something for everyone in this book, no matter what you like to drink or how much time you’re willing to devote to crafting the perfect cocktail. For example, it doesn't take much to recreate Charles Bukowski’s favorite boilermaker—you just need a shot of bourbon and a pint of any light beer but Coors, which the longtime Los Angeles resident didn’t care for.

charles bukowski boilermaker recipe from how to drink like a writer book
Apollo Publishers

charles bukowski boilermaker recipe from how to drink like a writer book
Apollo Publishers

Ian Fleming's Vesper Martini.

For anyone hoping to emulate Ian Fleming and the dashing, debonair nature of his legendary protagonist, James Bond, there’s the Vesper martini—a lemon-garnished goblet of gin, vodka, and Lillet Blanc that’ll have you scanning your own living room for any suspicious activity.

ian fleming's vesper martini from how to drink like a writer book
Apollo Publishers

ian fleming's vesper martini from how to drink like a writer book
Apollo Publishers

Jane Austen's Negus.

If you’re planning a cheerful party for close friends on a chilly winter night, you might prepare a warm pot of negus—the spiced wine that Jane Austen mentions in Mansfield Park and The Watsons. Wondering what to serve with it? The sugary port pairs well with white soup, an oniony, veal-based dish popular during the late 18th century. The book includes a recipe for that—and dishes that complement other cocktails—as well as tips for hosting a Paris-inspired salon and fascinating details about certain well-frequented bars, like Jack Kerouac’s Vesuvio Cafe.

jane austen's negus from how to drink like a writer book
Apollo Publishers

jane austen's negus from how to drink like a writer book
Apollo Publishers

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