The Suitcase Lady


December 27, 2016, 3:36 pm

It’s the perfect time to think about champagne. It’s an even better time to drink some. The new year ahead does not portend to be an easy one for those who value logic and decency.

Champagne is said to be the invention of Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk whose abbey was in Hauteville, France. He was the cellar master there for 47 years and “laid down the basic principles still used in champagne making today.”

Legend has it that in 1693 he tasted his creation and exclaimed, “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars.”

The champagne region in northeastern France existed long before Dom Perignon and the bubbly, celebratory wine. The Romans figured out that the cool climate, sloping hills and chalky subsoil in the area were ideal for growing grapes. From antiquity to the 16th century, red and rose wines were produced.

In those times, wine makers worked diligently to get any effervescence out of their wines, referring to fizzy wine as le vin du diable, the devil’s wine. Bubbles caused their thin glass bottles to frequently explode “like badly wired grenades”. Cellar workers wore padded clothes and iron face masks. In the 1700’s the invention of toughened glass and corks enabled the vintners to ship their sparkling wines.

Simultaneously, the royalty in Europe decided that champagne was their drink. Louis XV’s mistress, Madame du Pompadour, proclaimed, “champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it”. No twentieth century madman could have branded it better.

Today, the small town of Epernay south of Reims is the Capital of Champagne. Elegant villas that house the world’s most famous champagne producers line the town’s most famous street, the Avenue du Champagne. Under the Avenue are miles of caves where millions of bottles are quietly fermenting. May they rest in peace until they are uncorked.


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