Christopher Merret, a Champagne cellar worker, complete with mask and Dom Pérignon "inventing" Champagne.
The British were the first to see the tendency of wines from Champagne to sparkle as a desirable trait and tried to understand why it produced bubbles.
Wine was often transported to England in wooden wine barrels, where merchant houses would then bottle the wine for sale.
During the 17th century, English glass production used coal-fueled ovens and produced stronger, more durable glass bottles than the wood-fired French glass.
The English also rediscovered the use of cork stoppers, once used by the Romans but forgotten for centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. During the cold winters of the Champagne region, temperatures would drop so low that the fermentation process was prematurely halted, leaving behind some residual sugar and dormant yeast.
When the wine was shipped to, and bottled in England, the fermentation process would restart as the weather warmed and the cork-stoppered wine would begin to build pressure from carbon dioxide. Thus, when the wine was opened, it would be bubbly.
In 1662, the English scientist Christopher Merret presented a paper detailing how the presence of sugar in wine led to it eventually sparkling and, that by adding sugar to a wine before bottling it, nearly any wine could be made to sparkle. This is one of the first known accounts of understanding the process of sparkling wine and even suggests that British merchants were producing "sparkling Champagne" almost 30 years before Dom Pérignon and the French Champenois were deliberately making it.
What makes Champagne Champagne?
Champagne is produced at the far extreme of viticultural possibilities, where the grape struggles to ripen in a long drawn out growing season. A cool climate limits the varieties of grape, and the types of wine that can be made, but it is in this region that sparkling wine has found its pinnacle. The limestone–chalk soil produces grapes that have a certain balance of acidity and richness that is difficult to replicate in other parts of the world. The Champenois vigorously defend use of the term "Champagne" to relate the specific wine produced in their region. This includes objection to the term "Champagne style" to refer to sparkling wines produced elsewhere. Since 1985, use of the term "methode champenoise" has been banned in all wines produced or sold in the European Union.
Blending is the hallmark of Champagne wine, with most Champagnes being the assembled product of several vineyards and vintages. In Champagne there are over 19,000 vineyards, only 5,000 of which are owned by Champagne producers. The rest sell their grapes to the various Champagne houses, negociants and co-operatives. The grapes, most commonly Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot meunier (one white and two red grapes) are used to make several base wines that are assembled together to make Champagne. Each grape adds its own unique contribution to the result. Chardonnay is prized for its finesse and aging ability. Pinot noir adds body and fruit while Pinot meunier contributes substantially to the aroma, adding fruit and floral notes.
The majority of Champagnes produced are non-vintage (or rather, multi-vintage) blends.
Vintage Champagne, often a house's most prestigious and expensive wine, is, obviously, produced, but only in years when the producers feel that the grapes have the complexity and richness to warrant it.