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A 17th century Franciscan monk named Dom Pérignon is widely credited with inventing champagne. The good friar perfected the “Method Champenoise,” still used today to create “authentic” champagnes and sparkling wines. Upon sampling his first successful bottle he is reported to have uttered the charming exclamation, “Come brothers! I am drinking stars!” To this day, the name Dom Pérignon is associated worldwide with the finest champagne and most notable celebrations.
Madame Veuve Clicquot
The first champagne may have been created in a monk’s cellar, but it was perfected by a lady of means in early 18th century France. When François Clicquot died prematurely, his wife took over his champagne business. She soon developed the riddling table, which made the bubbly liquid clear and light.
Prior to that, champagne was often murky and more viscous than the delicate libation enjoyed today. A master marketer, Madame Clicquot had bottles of her champagne taken to the Royal Courts of Europe, where it quickly earned an upscale reputation and loyal following.
A picture of the “Grand Dame of Champagne,” as she was known, can still be found on select bottles of Veuve (French for “widow”) Clicquot champagne.
Does bubble size matter?
Yes! Champagnes and sparkling wines made using the traditional “Method Champenoise” exhibit small, delicate bubbles that float deliciously into one’s nose as the flute is lifted to the lips. This fizziness will last as long as one cares to linger…
Less expensive carbonated wines (made with less lengthy and less expensive methods than method champenoise) have larger bubbles that often explode upon opening or pouring and, if not imbibed promptly, can quickly fall flat.
What is the difference between Champagne and Sparkling Wine?
Only those effervescent liquids created in the Champagne region of France may be accurately called “champagne.” Other fine sparklers, even when they are made using the traditional method champenoise, are labeled “Sparkling Wines.” When purchasing a Sparkling Wine, look for “Method Champenoise” on the label to be assured a more refined, traditional beverage.
Do I want “Extra Dry” or “Brut?”
Brut and Extra Dry refer to the sweetness of the champagne. Brut is actually “dryer” than “Extra Dry” which will taste sweeter.
Are there any budget champagnes or sparkling wines?
Yes! Sparkling wines tend to be less expensive than traditional champagne. For a very drinkable, affordable option, try a “CAVA” from Spain like Frexinet’s Cordon Negro Brut, in the easily recognizable matte black bottle. These sparkling wines lend themselves beautifully to “champagne” cocktails, such as the regal Kir Royal or festive mimosa.(Originally published in the November/December 2009 issue of Cowgirl Magazine).