A short history of the bubble beyond Champagne
According to the historian Benoît Musset, the first recorded mention of sparkling wine is found in an Egyptian papyrus document dated AD 522. Sparkling wines were considered flawed, and secondary fermentation in spring is listed as one of the factors making wines unfit for sale. In the 1201 miracle play Le Jeu de Saint Nicolas, Jehan Bodel portrays characters in an inn, with one commenting: ‘see how it devours its bubbles, how it sparkles, shimmers and bounces’. Épernay wine is described in a 1320 poem by Watriquet de Couvin as ‘sparkling on the tongue, clear, quivering, strong, fine and fresh’. In Limoux in France’s south-west, the Benedictine monks of the Abbaye de Saint-Hilaire mentioned the distribution of Blanquette de Limoux in cork-stoppered flasks in 1531 (although the 1544 accounts of the Sire d’Arques referred to the grape variety rather than a sparkling wine as such).
Champagne’s pre-eminence as a sparkling wine region in the eighteenth century provoked envy and inspired competition. Seeing that Champagne had stolen a sparkling march on burgundy, the Dijon agronomist, Edme Beguillet, describes Champagne, in 1770, as ‘the only industry capable of bringing previously non-existent wines out of obscurity, and bestowing reputation on a previously unknown product.’ In 1845, the champenois had become so concerned at imitations that a lawsuit brought by a group of Champagne houses resulted in the French Cour de Cassation banning the use of the name Champagne as a generic label for French sparkling wines. Cyrus Redding listed Die, Saint-Péray, Limoux, Anjou and Belfort among French regions making fizz in the first half of the nineteenth century. By the late 1800s, the roster had expanded beyond French borders to include Italy, Germany, Russia, Switzerland, Hungary, Spain, Australia and the USA. Mass production was helped by the introduction of the moulded bottle in 1882.
Australia’s first serious attempts at sparkling wine began in the late 1840s when Edward Cory and William Burnett showed their ‘champagnes’ at the Hunter Valley Vignerons Association, following which New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia were soon to get in on the act. By the 1880s, French winemaker Auguste d’Argent of the Victorian Champagne Company, was making ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ and Charles Pierlot was brought out by the sparkling wine pioneer Hans Irvine from Pommery and Greno Champagne in 1890. Mark Twain observed the Australian weakness for ‘champagne’ and visited the extensive cellars at Great Western In 1895. Another Frenchman, Edmond Mazure, made sparkling ‘burgundy’ at Auldana near Adelaide in the early 1890s, subsequently producing an array of sparkling wines under the La Perouse label in the 1910s.
Sparkling wine production was already sufficiently established in America by the mid-nineteenth century for the wine merchant T. G. Shaw, writing in 1864, to conclude: ‘The most important vineyards are those of Ohio, Missouri and Indiana, but the most celebrated is in Cincinnati’. In 1842, Nicholas Longworth, a Cincinnati lawyer, produced sparkling Catawba after a batch of wine accidentally went through a second fermentation. He became rich enough to bring in winemaking savoir-faire and technology from Champagne, but alas, the first Frenchman to arrive drowned in the Ohio River, while the second lost 42,000 out of 50,000 bottles in one season to burst bottles. Third time lucky, a M. Fournier arrived in 1852 and Longworth was soon producing 100,000 bottles a year. Longworth sent a case to the abolitionist poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who described it as having ‘a taste more divine, more dulcet, delicious and dreamy [than Champagne].’
While the first New York ‘champagne’ was made in 1865 by Joseph Masson, who called it sparkling Catawba, he and his brother Jules made a cuvée in 1870, which was mistaken at a meeting of Pleasant Valley growers for a ‘great champagne of the West’ (i.e. California). While the eastern states were making merry with fizz, Pierre Sainsevain, on returning from Champagne, set up a winery in San Jose for bottle-fermented ‘sparkling California’. At the same time, Agoston Haraszthy sent his son Arpad to Champagne to learn the tricks of the fizz trade at De Venoge. Arpad was later to produce Eclipse, one of the most successful American sparkling wines of the 1870s. Meanwhile, Paul Masson, who left Burgundy for California in 1878 at the age of 19, was to become known as the ‘Champagne King of California’ after establishing the Paul Masson Champagne Company in 1892.
The sparkling wine industry was bubbling under in nineteenth-century Europe too. Georg Kessler, who had worked for Madame Clicquot, left in 1826 to found the firm of GC Kessler in Esslingen and, with it, the German sparkling wine industry was born. Carlo Gancia is believed to have cut his sparkling winemaking teeth at de Venoge in 1848, returning to his native Piemonte to create the first ‘Italian champagne’ in 1865. Prosecco’s future was foretold after Federico Martinotti developed a prototype of the tank method, allowing refermentation of the base wines in autoclavi (large pressurized tanks). The metodo Martinotti was patented in 1895 before Eugène Charmat took up the baton and patented the Charmat method in 1907. While the claim for the first Spanish sparkling wine belongs to Antoni Gali Comas in around 1850, the first to pioneer a bottle-fermented sparkling wine from local Penedès varieties was Josep Raventós in 1872.
In Pozsony (now Bratislava), Johann Evangelist Hubert returned from Napoleon’s campaigns in Russia to make sparkling wine. The company that became Hubert was founded in 1825 by Mihály Schönburger and János Fischer and won the award for best Hungarian sparkling wine in 1842. The first sparkling producer on the Pest side of Budapest was founded in 1852, but domestic fizz production didn’t really take off until later in the nineteenth century. In neighbouring Slovenia, sparkling history dates back to 1852 when the first traditional method bubbles appeared in Radgona (today in Austria), a tradition continued by Radgonske Gorice on the Slovenian side of the border. In Moldova, it’s reported that Prince Paravichini made ‘an extremely pure champagne probably from the Iaidzhi variety [possibly Chasselas] in Akkerman in 1825 and, famously, Henri Roederer founded what became the Odessa Sparkling Wine Factory in 1896.
Today it’s almost impossible to imagine a time when wine was drunk with no thought of the bubble. As is clear from the early history of so many countries, either through visits to the region by fizz-struck pioneering spirits or the importation of champenois savoir-faire and technology, we have Champagne to thank for inspiring production of sparkling wine around the globe and enriching our capacity for enjoying bubbles for all seasons and occasions.
Extract from Fizz! Champagne and Sparkling Wines of the World © Anthony Rose (Infinite Ideas, 2021)
To read more, buy your copy direct from the Classic Wine Library online shop.
Wine has been important in many societies since ancient times. It is now produced in all continents and drunk in all but a few countries. It has influenced our health, our political and social relations, our dining habits and even our landscape. To say that wine is a drink that has shaped our world may appear to be an overstatement, but in a new book wine historian Rod Phillips demonstrates just how great a part wine has played in the development of cultures worldwide.
In Wine: A social and cultural history of the drink that changed our lives, Phillips takes a thematic approach to demonstrate how wine has had an impact on eight key areas of our lives. As he says, ‘Wine is a nearly ubiquitous beverage, just like beer and distilled spirits and a little less so than water, tea, and coffee. But it is arguable that the history of wine is that much more complex because of the cultural, social and medical values that have historically been attached to it.’
We may think that concerns about alcohol and health are relatively modern, but the effect wine has on our bodies has long been argued. While Greek and Roman commentators recommended its use in a variety of ailments, and the ancient Egyptians treated complaints as diverse as earache, asthma and jaundice with wine, there have always been those who saw it less as a tonic and more as a danger to health. These days the arguments continue as advocates for wine’s antioxidant effects suggest a few glasses a day are beneficial while some on the opposing side state that anything less than total abstinence poses a threat to health.
In the chapter on wine in relation to women and men Phillips notes a double standard that is perhaps less prevalent today: ‘Historically, men have been anxious about women in possession of alcohol – especially ‘their’ women, meaning their unmarried daughters and their wives,’ he says. ‘Women were advised (by men) to drink alcohol sparingly, if at all, and for the most part women were barred by law or custom from public drinking places such as taverns and alehouses until the twentieth century.’
For men, on the other hand, the ability to hold one’s drink was seen as a sign of manliness. This even extended to an idea, popular until surprisingly recently, that wine would enhance performance in battle. During the First World War French soldiers were given a ration of 1 litre of wine a day, after experiments showed that those who drank wine were more alert and energetic than those given beer. The eventual defeat of the beer-drinking German army did nothing to contradict this view.
Phillips also includes chapters detailing wine’s impact on our landscapes, its sometimes troubled relationship with religion, the increasingly complex interplay between food and wine and some spectacular wine crimes, before taking a revealing look at the way we talk about and criticize wine.
About the author
Rod Phillips is a wine writer who lives in Ottawa, Canada. He is professor of history at Carleton University, where he teaches courses on alcohol, food and European history. He has published in wine media such as The World of Fine Wine, Wine Spectator, Vines Magazine and the guildsomm.com website, and is wine writer for NUVO Magazine. His books on wine include The Wines of Canada (in the Classic Wine Library, 2017), 9000 Years of Wine (2017), French Wine: A History (2016), Alcohol: A History (2014), and A Short History of Wine (2000).
Our wine library of classic books and contemporary ideas, blog by Richard Mayson
I have always thought that there is something deeply satisfying about sitting down at the end of a day with a glass of wine accompanied by a good book. It is even better when the said book explains the raison d’être of the wine you are drinking. It brings the wine, the region and the people behind it to life. This is the nub of the Classic Wine Library: good books for the wine enthusiast.
Our authors are all passionate experts in their field, many with a lifetime experience in the region they are writing about. For example, Julian Jeffs first visited Jerez in 1956 and took a job with a sherry shipper where he saw every stage in the making of the wine, from the vine to the bottle. He subsequently became a barrister and QC but maintained a lifelong relationship with the shippers and the region. His wealth of experience, wit and wisdom is captured in his book Sherry. Nicholas Faith, author of Cognac and The Story of Champagne, came to wine writing as a professional business journalist, writing in the Sunday Times, Financial Times and The Economist. His books cover the social history of two classic regions, brought to life with topical anecdotes. They bring the regions up-to-date and explain how they operate today.
I joined the wine trade fresh from University thirty years ago with great respect for these authors. In 1987, whilst working at The Wine Society, I was awarded the Vintner’s Scholarship and Julian Jeff’s book was my mentor when I spent two weeks on self-styled ‘Sherry safari’ as part of a three month trip round Iberia. One day, I thought, I might want to write a book myself. I achieved this aspiration rather sooner than I imagined when, in the early 1990s, I was commissioned to write a book on Portugal, a country that was still something of a terra incognita in the wine trade. Portugal was and is my passion, having introduced me to wine in my gap year whilst working in a bar and restaurant named Godot’s (it was so called because the owners thought that the place would never be finished!) I started visiting vineyards and, with the advantage of speaking fluent Portuguese, became good friends with many wine growers and producers. A few years later Julian Jeffs, then editor for Faber, commissioned me to write a book on Port (Port and the Douro) and I followed this a few years later with a book on Madeira (the second edition of which was shortlisted earlier this year for an André Simon Award). I am currently planning a new book on Portugal, to be co-authored with fellow Lusophile and co-editor Joshua Greene.
Little did I think, thirty years ago, that I would become editor of a wine series, commissioning authors to write new books as well as helping to up date some of the classic titles that I came to know so well when I first joined the wine trade and began studying for exams. So it is with great satisfaction that I see the Infinite Ideas Classic Wine Library coming together with the authors of new classics. Rosemary George MW, whose delightful portrait of Faugères, the leading wine village in Languedoc, was published this summer also began her wine trade career at The Wine Society. Her book on the Languedoc will be out in 2018. We have quite a few other new classics in the making. Roussillon, Canada, the Côte d’Or, northern Italy, Jura and Spain are just some of the subjects for new books due to be published in 2017. And I welcome authors Richard James, Rod Philips, Raymond Blake, Michael Garner, Wink Lorch and co-editor Sarah Jane Evans MW to Infinite Ideas.
We have a limited number of seconds of Spirits Distilled and The wines of Faugères available at a hugely discounted rate.
The wines of Faugères, rrp £30, sale price £10
These books have been printed with the plate section in black and white rather than colour. In all other respects the books are identical to the perfect copies.
Spirits Distilled, rrp £19.99, sale price £5
A printing error caused some of the pictures to come out either very dark or very faint. The text is unaffected and is perfectly readable throughout.
Books are available on a first come, first served basis; postage and packing is charged at cost. Please contact Anne-Marie on 01865 514888 or email email@example.com to place your order.
For the gnocchi:
350g floury (baking) potatoes
1 large egg, beaten
a pinch of nutmeg
zest of 1 lemon
a few basil leaves
Maldon sea salt, to season
black pepper, to season
For the beetroot:
8 baby beetroots (or 2 regular size, if you can’t find smaller ones)
150g Maldon sea salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
several sprigs of thyme
2–3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled and crushed
a splash of balsamic vinegar
a splash of olive oil
a squeeze of lemon juice
60g goat’s curd
200g peas, cooked lightly
200g broad beans, shelled and cooked lightly
Begin by baking the potatoes for the gnocchi. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Scrub the potatoes and bake them in the oven until cooked through, which will probably take about an hour. You can test them by sticking a knife in; if it comes out easily, with no resistance, they are ready.
Lower the oven to 150°C/300°F/gas 2 for the salt-baked beetroot. Wash the beetroot and trim off the leaves if still attached, but do not peel. Take two large sheets of foil and lay them out like a cross. Put the Maldon salt in the middle, and add the peppercorns, thyme and garlic. Place the beetroot on the salt. Lift the foil up a little, add one tablespoon of water and pull the foil together, closing it around the beetroot but not too tightly – they need room to steam. Put them on a baking tray and then cook them in the oven for about 30–40 minutes, or until soft (if you’re using two larger beetroots instead of the baby ones this will take longer – allow twice the time). Unwrap the beetroots as soon as they are cool enough to handle and gently rub off the skins; when they are cooked and still warm the skins should rub off easily. Discard the skins and the salt mixture, then set the beets aside.
This part is key. While the potatoes are still warm, just cool enough to handle without actually burning yourself, peel off the skins or use a spoon to scoop out the cooked flesh. While it is still warm it needs to be mashed in a ricer, with a potato masher or even passed through a coarse sieve into a large bowl – it should look like grated potato. After this it will have cooled down more, but it shouldn’t be completely cold. Fold the beaten egg into the potato, then add the nutmeg, ricotta, lemon zest, a couple of torn basil leaves, and enough flour to bind the mixture. Season with Maldon salt and pepper and knead the dough a little, adding more flour if the mixture is too loose. Lightly flour a work surface and tip the dough out onto it. Finish kneading the dough by hand – it should be light and dry to the touch. Then divide it into long sausage shapes. Cut them into pieces the size of large walnuts. For an authentic finish, roll these down the back of a floured fork.
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil, and then reduce the heat to a steady rolling simmer. Blanch the gnocchi in the water in batches (don’t overfill the pan as they need room to float up) for 3–4 minutes until firm; they will rise to the surface when ready. Lift them out with a slotted spoon, drain them briefly on kitchen paper and then set them to one side to cool and dry.
When you are ready to serve, halve the beetroots and warm them up in a pan with a little balsamic vinegar. Put the butter in a large non-stick pan and fry the gnocchi briefly, browning them quickly on all sides. Put a dash of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon in another pan and toss together the warm peas, broad beans, a little of the ricotta and goat’s curd, and season with Maldon salt and pepper. Place half of this in the bottom of each serving bowl and build up with the pieces of baby beetroot, then a few small spoons of the goat’s curd, the pan-fried gnocchi, a little more pea mixture and a few torn basil leaves. Serve immediately.
This recipe is from Desert Island Dishes and Copyright of Maldon Salt Company Limited 2012
For the lamb:
4 x 200g rumps of lamb
1 tbsp good olive oil
1 clove of garlic, unpeeled but lightly crushed
2 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
200ml good quality stock (brown, lamb or chicken)
15g unsalted butter
For the Tatin:
24 medium shallots, unpeeled
200g Maldon sea salt, with a little reserved for seasoning
2 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of rosemary
1 tbsp salted butter, softened
Freshly milled black pepper
4 x 10cm rounds of rolled-out puff pastry, approximately 2.5mm thick
1 tbsp good olive oil
Steamed broccoli or green beans
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Start by preparing the tartes Tatin; you will need 4 x 10cm Tatin moulds. Mix together the Maldon salt, thyme and rosemary, and sprinkle onto a baking tray big enough to hold all the shallots in one layer. Place the shallots on the salt and bake for approximately 20 minutes until slightly softened. Remove from the oven and allow to cool until you are able to handle them. Carefully peel off the skins.
Brush the Tatin moulds with the softened butter and season them well with salt and pepper. Arrange 6 shallots in each mould, and press down slightly so that they are at an even depth. Then top with the puff pastry circles, tucking the pastry in at the sides so the shallots are completely covered. Brush the pastry with the olive oil, prick it over with a fork and bake in the oven for about 20–25 minutes, until golden and slightly risen. Remove them from the oven and rest for 2–3 minutes before carefully turning them out. Keep them warm until you are ready to serve.
Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof sauté pan. Season the lamb well with Maldon salt and freshly milled black pepper. Put the rumps into the pan and colour them well on all sides. Then place the pan in the oven for 2–3 minutes. Remove the pan, turn the meat over and add the garlic, thyme and rosemary. Return the pan to the oven for another 6–8 minutes. Remove from the oven, lift the lamb out of the pan and leave it to rest in a warm place for 3–4 minutes. Pour off any excess oil or fat from the pan, and return it to the hob over a high heat. Add the stock and reduce it by half until the juice has the consistency of a sauce. Take the pan off the heat, whisk in the butter and pass the sauce through a fine strainer into a jug.
To serve, place a Tatin on each serving plate, slice each rump of lamb into five even pieces and lie them on the plate next to the Tatin. Spoon the pan juices over, and serve with some steamed broccoli or green beans.
This recipe is from Desert Island Dishes and Copyright of Maldon Salt Company Limited 2012