Champagne and Its Mysteries
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Champagne and Its Mysteries

Discover the history of Champagne, the world's famous wine from France.

If you happen to visit France, you will not miss the Region of Champagne with its many Gothic churches and the extraordinary cathedral of the Coronation of French Kings  in Reims. Champagne is also France's most famous wine. The old Champagne Province today gathers the départements  of Marne, Aube and Aisne around the vineyards of Reims, Epernay and Ay.

This white light sparking wine stimulates imagination. Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's mistress, used to say it was the only wine capable of maintaining women's beauty after having drunk it. The modern economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that he only had one regret in his life: "not having drunk more Champagne". The name Champagne comes from the latin "campania" which means a plain: the region is rather flat. The vine is cultivated on the hills. Although the area is cold, the yearly average temperature is 10°C. Vine certainly grew on those gentle slopes by the times of the Gauls and Romans. The  chalky subsoil is perfectly adapted to vine growing. The composition of this layer of chalk gives the wine its so characteristic taste. It is also perfect for moderating moisture and heat. Many Champagne producers have digged cellars in the chalk, especially in Reims, where the wine reaches maturity. The period when Dom Pérignon (1638-1715) was the cellarman at Hautvillers Abbey is a major event in the history of the world's most appreciated wine. The Benedictine monk probably was the first to produce, from black grapes, a perfectly limpid white wine and to invent the fermentation method called Méthode Champenoise that consists in working the wine. As he became old and blind, this connoisseur certainly also created the principle of the growth, known as cuvée: a wine of constant quality obtained through a clever blend of different vintages. Dom Pérignon is said to regularly have tasted grapes from various locations before having his breakfast. He might also well be the first to have corked his bottles with cork from Spain. Champagne may come from three varieties of grapes: black Pinot, black Pinot Meunier and white Chardonnay. Most of the vineyards of the Champagne Region were planted with black Pinot. The high quality grape is also well known in Burgundy and is a base for great red wines. Chardonnay can also be found in Burgundy where it gives superb white wines. The Chardonnay vine-plant is used to make Champagne lighter and more delicate. It is only from the XVIIIth century that, once Champagne had become white and sparkling and no longer red and flat, that it became popular in all the royal courts. A Champagne Rosé also exists, produced in small quantity. This "civilizing wine" was served by Talleyrand who wanted to obtain better peace conditions at the Vienna Congress in 1814-1815. Champagne has always been considered the wine of the élite. Many varieties  are offered, with many different tastes but it is always a very special wine reserved for very special events, especially when it comes from prestigious houses.  And to conclude, a phrase Napoleon said: "I cannot live without Champagne, in case of victory I deserve it, in case of defeat, I need it".

The various types of bottles according to size:   

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Dom Pérignon.

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The Champagne vineyard at Epernay.

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Jean François de Troy: The Oysters Lunch, 1735. Champagne is being cooled in an ice bucket. 

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Champagne Rosé and White.

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Champagne cellar.

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Comments (13)

Delightful. I love Champagne (also the region).

Fantastic and right up my street...Champagne, gothic churches (my kind of heaven) I learn't something new as normal from you Francois, I love Dom-perignon but was ignorant to its heritage! I am out of votes but will buzz, tweet and come back tomorrow!

Fun article and great quote by Napolean.

Mmmmmm, mimosa! Great and entertaining article--Napolean had a sense of humor? Who knew?

As for wine, I've always loved a good French Chardonney. Dry but fruity. Champagne always gives me headaches for some reason. France has so much rich history and fine food. Your articles are always top shelf Francois. Great read and write.

Ranked #1 in France

Many thanks to all for your comments.

An excellent and fantastic article Francois. I didn't know about these facts. I learned something new today. Thank you so much for this :)

I like Champagne and Cognac but love to visit the actual places, Francois. I was thankful I have strayed from drinking nowadays to concentrate to writing.

Simply delightful, Francois! Another excellent article in the bag!

Francois, my friend, how are you? Another article of perfection. White Chardonnay is by far my favorite.

I never knew that Dom Pérignon was an actual person I always figured it was simply a fancy name on the labels :-)

A fascinating discussion of landscape, history and wine. It's red wine for me, but it was great to read your account of this region and its history.

A great article, I feel like I traveled to France and enjoyed this great wine. Promoted.