Drinking Stars: Who invented champagne?

dom_perignon_coverAs the story goes, an old French monk, Dom Perignon, discovered Champagne completely by accident one day in 1697 – one of those beautiful mishaps that would change the world forever. After bottling his wine, he laid it down to rest for the winter and when he cracked it open the following year, he poured a glass and was surprised by this miracle product.

“Come quick!” he called to his robed colleagues, “I am drinking stars!”

And so Champagne was born, allegedly.

While Dom Perignon’s story makes good copy, there are a few hiccups in this French tale of accidentally-on-purpose. There is documented proof that Dom Perignon actually called this wine ‘devils wine’ because he felt the unexpected outcome was actually a curse. The volatile product would explode entire shelves of wine and was a dangerous nuisance. The the final bursting of this French bubble comes with the knowledge that the English had been making sparkling wine for at least 20 years before.

In December 1662, English scientist Christopher Merret in a rather less grandiose statement wrote in his book  “Some Observations Concerning the Order of Wines“ that “our wine-coopers of recent times add vast quantities of sugar and molasses to wines to make them drink brisk and sparkling”
It turns out the Brits had actually been making sparkling wine on purpose long before Dom P got dizzy. In fact, the word for sparkling wine (mousseux) didn’t appear in France until 1718.

However, as with every story of rivalry between these neighbouring nations, the French have another story to claim the Champagne throne, although this time not in Champagne at all. In Carscasonne in 1531 some Benedictine monks started making sparkling wine called Limoux with the rural method by bottling it before it finishes fermentation and gives a little fizz to the wine at the end. This is the first documentation of bubbly wine, although the ‘champenoise method’ of doing a second fermentation in bottle, remains an English invention. For now.

So when did the beautiful star drinking story appear? That would be in a Dom Perignon advert in the 19th century.



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