There’s a Storm Brewing
Storm clouds are gathering over our garden and I’m stuck indoors with a To Do list which includes buying champagne for Christmas. A nice problem you might think.
But storm clouds are gathering inside too. As President Emmanuel Macron indulges in the French sport of Brit Bashing again. This time punishing us for leaving the European Union and making a no-deal Brexit the most likely scenario for 2021. My first, and maybe final, reaction is to say two can play at that!
Giving up champagne though, which as far as I’m concerned was practically invented by the British, could be a case of cutting my nose off to spite my face.
It’s become a family tradition of ours to stock up on our favourite fizz. Made by Stephane Breton, it’s the house champagne at D.Byrne & Co, the famous Clitheroe wine merchants.
Champagne – a British Invention?
So let’s explore the claim that champagne is British and so “how dare they”. Plus, if the French want to be so spiteful, what alternatives can be sourced from outside the EU?
Contrary to popular belief, champagne, as we now know it, was not invented by the French monk Dom Perignon. The problem that Dom Perignon was trying to solve was how to ensure that the wine from the Champenois remained both white and still. Exactly how the French of the day preferred it.
Winemakers in the region routinely lost vast quantities of their produce due to a second fermentation. This fermentation blew open and smashed the relatively weak French glass bottles. This happened when cold weather stopped the first fermentation before it killed all the yeast in the bottle. Subsequent warm weather restarted the fermentation and boom! Corks would fly and bottles broke.
As is the case now, the largest export market for wines from the Champagne region in the 17th and 18th Century was Britain. Although it’s unlikely to have made its way to the Old Vicarage at that time! Much of this wine was left on the London Docks getting cold. This led to many of us Brits experiencing our still wine with a bit of fizz. And it turns out we grew rather fond of these serendipitous bubbles.
Much of this wine was imported in barrels and bottled here. But how did we keep our ‘whizz from the fizz’? As is often the case, necessity was the mother of invention. Thankfully, our coal- fired glass bottles were stronger than the French equivalent. We also rediscovered the Roman method of tethering the corks to the bottleneck. Sorted!
So does that mean champagne is British?
Well not quite.
Following the demi- monde fashionistas of London, the French aristocracy also acquired a taste for bubbles. This led the Champenois to refine and control the second fermentation. Veuve Cliquot led the way and showed how this production method could become profitable. Other Champagne houses quickly followed and grew, including Moët et Chandon and Mercier.
Let the Tasting Begin
So, in my best franglais, “Vive the old Entente Cordial”. At least that was until President Macron woke up on the wrong side of his bed…
So what are my alternatives?
It’s too early to say but I’m going to have fun finding out. I’m ordering these three from Majestic to start:
- Graham Beck Brut – £11.99 per bottle when you order 6 bottles. A South African sparkling wine made using the methode Champenois. It was served at Nelson Mandela’s Inauguration and for other official state occasions, including the visit of Barack Obama.
- Louis Pommery Brut England – £27.99 when you order 6 bottles. Pommery was the first Champagne House to set up an English Fizz operation. It applies the same methods it uses back home to “craft a crisp, arrow precise bouquet of waxy lemon, Granny Smith, freshly baked bread and honeycomb.”
- House of Arras Brut Elite Cuvée NV – £29.99 when you order 6 bottles. A much lauded champagne style wine from Tasmania which aims to create a sparkling wine on a par with that of the best Champagne Houses of France.
I can’t wait!