On 4 August 1693, a Benedictine monk called Dom Pierre Pérignon shouted excitedly for his monastic brothers. “Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!” he exclaimed – having at last cracked the secret to producing sparkling champagne. Or so the story goes. Alas, this charming anecdote is a 19th-century myth. In fact, Dom Pérignon worked tirelessly to eradicate bubbles in the wine of his region, Champagne.
When bottled wine cooled before all of the sugar had been converted into alcohol, fermentation halted. Then, when bottles warmed up again in the summer, dormant yeasts became active, producing carbon dioxide and effervescence. The build-up of pressure made many bottles of poor-quality French glass explode in the cellar – hence the contents were known as the ‘devil’s wine’.
In fact, there’s evidence that the method for encouraging secondary fermentation to produce sparkling wine was first described in England in 1662. English glass was tougher than French, and used airtight corks, so very fizzy wine could be enjoyed as a thrilling novelty.
By the early 18th century, the French aristocracy had acquired the taste, and marques such as Veuve Clicquot, Krug and Bollinger were later launched. The champagne called Dom Pérignon was first produced in 1921 – and now the ‘devil’s wine’ is the most famous in the world!