How Did Champagne (The Drink) Get Its Name?

Champagne is a sparkling wine, made from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France. At times the term champagne is used to describe sparkling wines from other regions of the world, but those wines should rightfully be called sparkling wine. The term champagne should be reserved for sparkling wines actually produced in that region of the world.

The History of Champagne

Wine grapes were first grown in that region of the world by the Romans in ancient times. The history of wine in that area stretches back to at least the 5th century. Long after the fall of Rome, priests were growing grapes in the region so that they could make wine for the Eucharist.

Unfortunately, red grapes did not grow well in the region so it was difficult to make full bodied wines. Eventually, people discovered the perfect mixture of grapes to make champagne. The first bottle of champagne was reportedly made by Benedictine Monks in 1531.

The grapes used to make champagne are not called champagne grapes. Rather, the drink is made with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier grapes. Over the years, the rules for growing the grapes needed to make champagne have become quite specific. Certain grapes must be grown on certain plots in the region in order for the drink to rightfully claim the name.

Second Fermentation and French Glass Makers

As wine lovers have explored the history of champagne, they have discovered that the initial makers of the drink put sugar in it. The sugar was used to create a second fermentation, and for years, champagne makers had to wait until the second fermentation was complete before they could bottle the drink. They were unable to bottle the drink any earlier because too much gas was created by the second fermentation. As this gas built up in the bottle, it threatened to pop off the cork and blow up the glass.

In order to adequately house champagne, glass makers needed to step in. Their role was to create a stronger more durable glass that could withstand the build up of pressures. As a result, the glass making culture in that region expanded, and the area produced Rene Lalique, one of the most important glass designers of all time. Just as Lalique was being born in the 19th century, the area started to bottle the drink before the second fermentation. At the same time, inventors also had to design a special device to prevent the cork from blowing off. It was during this time that champagne reached the height of its popularity.

Champagne a Sign of Luxury

The drink quickly became synonymous with the ideals of luxury and power. To foster this image, the makers of champagne worked hard to construct a history for the drink. They wanted the drink to be associated with nobility and royalty. They wanted people to think of festivals and important events when they thought of champagne. At the time, these marketing efforts were very successful because many people were looking for ways to look upper class. By buying and drinking champagne, they could make themselves look upwardly mobile. Now centuries after the first bottle was consumed, champagne continues to be a sign of luxury and good taste.

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+DJL Lalique is the forum of David Weinstein, a lover of fine wine and fine art. He writes about the art of Rene Lalique on his blog.

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