By Holly Leitner
It’s on the guest list of every special occasion from Sunday brunch to bar mitzvahs, yet champagne originated as a mere flaw in the winemaking process. Like soap that floats, potato chips and Silly Putty, champagne was one of life’s great accidents turned treasure.
In the 1600s, monks in northern France excitedly opened their fermented bottles of wine after months of aging. What they found were mysterious bubbles and it was generally assumed a byproduct of witchcraft in the small region of Champagne. The wine had the tendency to explode in caves, further questioning witchcraft, so one monk was put on assignment to cure the ailing wine.
Benedictine Monk Dom Pérignon meticulously tried many recipes to perfect the wine, but the bubbles stayed and the sparkling wine grew better and brighter. Over time, people realized it was double fermentation, not witchcraft, which added the carbonic gas and gave the fizz. To this day, winemakers in Champagne, France, follow Dom Pérignon’s recipe.
And so the romance with the revered bubbles began. Today, champagne is a star guest at many of life’s greatest moments: nearly every ship is christened with a bottle, a wedding rarely misses its toast, and many anniversaries are celebrated by uncorking a bottle. The tiny bubbles are quick to bring big smiles. It’s the simple elegance, the Audrey Hepburn of the wine world.
WHAT’S IN A NAME
All wine labeled “champagne” must come from Champagne, France, just as Rioja comes from Rioja and Chianti from Chianti. It is made from Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes.
In the effervescent world, many other regions also produce sparkling, double-fermented wines: Cava from Spain, sparkling wine from California, and prosecco, moscato or asti from Italy, to name a few. Yet, nothing is quite as elegant as a glass of true champagne; the tiny bubbles and toasty flavor in this artisanal creation can be magical. The price point keeps these bottles on the “special” shelf, reflecting all the hard work and TLC champagne needs; these beautiful bottles are limited in production. A diamond in the rough as it comes from a land with rugged winters and poor soil, champagne-making is tedious, requiring repetitions of twisting, turning and constantly inspecting the bottles.
For the other days of the year, the other sparklings of the world offer a beautiful take on terroir at a fraction of the price. There is no other type of wine so versatile and adaptive; sparkling wine goes with everything from popcorn to caviar. The holiday season begs for sparkles, even in the glass.
To start your celebration, David Biegemann of Pop More Corks in Lake Geneva recommends the following:
- Henriot Blanc Souverain ($59.99) 100% Chardonnay, with a lighter, crisper style.
- Duval Leroy Brut ($35.99) A blend of all three grapes.
- Gaston Chiquet Tradition ($50.99) Predominantly Pinot Noir, more full-bodied.
The legendary Bellini is perhaps the most revered and famous prosecco cocktail, this drink was invented at Harry’s Bar, a favorite Venetian watering hole of Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis and Orson Welles. The pure simplicity of puréed peaches and prosecco with a touch of berry juice is heavenly. It was developed some time in the 1940s, and the unique pink color reminded the owner of a painting by 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini.
- 2 oz. peach juice or peach puree
- 4 oz. prosecco (suggested: Santa Margherita Prosecco)
- Add raspberry or cherry juice for the pink glow.