by Fred McMillin
for November 26, 1999

 

Winery of the Week

The First Bubbles

 

Prologue

A shock to the wine world. A major wire service reports that the French Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon, did NOT invent Champagne, thus contradicting the traditional belief. The report is based on sparkling wine expert Tom Stevenson's new World Encyclopedia of Champagne (see our review in this month's WineDay Annex). Tom writes, "The English invented Champagne 30 years before [Dom Perignon] made his first sparkling Champagne."

Blind Tasting Celebration!

Your author (left) congratulating the three panelists that successfully identified the prestigious Dom Perignon Champagne in a blind tasting.

Actually, this English claim should NOT have been a suprise. It was documented by the late, legendary André Simon, founder of the International Wine and Food Society. Pierre Perignon put those bubbles into his wine in the 1690s. The English started doing it in the 1660s. André found orders for strong-walled bottles and cork stoppers. He also quotes literary references to drinking "sparkling Champaign [sic]" in the 1660s and '70s.

So Dom Perignon may not have been first, but most historians credit him with many refinements in the production of Champagne, such as selecting the most suitable grapes and creating the best blends. Consequently when the great Champagne house of Moët and Chandon decided in 1936 to create the industry's first prestige cuvee, they appropriately named it after the great monk. and it was a success. Exactly 40 years later the New York Times listed the $26 Dom Perignon at the top of its recommended list. Today, the price is closer to $100, and I buy it for special family occasions. You need not ask what I think of it... to get someone named McMillin to part with that kind of money tells it all.

Now, our winery of the day is the producer, Moët and Chandon (MC). We first visited MC in Epernay on Dec. 2, 1975, and learned a lot. Claude Moët was a friend of Perignon's. The little firm he started didn't expand until his grandson, Jean-Remy Moët, joined forces with Pierre-Gabriel Chandon in 1832; the name became Moët-Chandon. The company became the largest Champagne producer in the world.


Postscript

You may have seen an item in the newspaper a few years ago which read, "Oliver Chandon de Brailles, the 27 year old heir to the Moët-Chandon Champagne fortune, is a race car driver of considerable skill. At the Moroso Motor Sports Park, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., he lost control of his vehicle and was killed."

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

WineDay Annex

More articles by
Fred McMillin

 

Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.

 

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