Kenelm Digby's father was executed for his part in attempting to blow up the English King in 1605. A restless youth, Kenelm traveled learning many languages and what science there was. At age 17 he left Oxford for Paris. There, incredibly, the Queen-Mother of France, Marie de Medici developed a deep affection for him. The situation became so alarming he pulled trick number one: He arranged for rumors to be spread of his death, and in the confusion fled to Italy!
Trick Number Two
At age 24, he turned to piracy...with great success. In the Mediterranean he was the scourge of Dutch, Spanish and Flemish shipping. Next, those intellectual interests gained control and he conducted a number of archeological digs in the Greek islands.
Then, it was back to England, and Trick Number Two. Glass bottles for wine were new. Italy was the leader, but the bottles were so frail they had to be wrapped in straw. Kenelm became interested. He developed a very strong bottle in the shape of a large bubble. Sir Kenelm Digby had become the father of the modern wine bottle!
Dawnine Dyer made today's wine.
London wine merchants were about to start toying with sparkling wine production (before Dom Perignon). They were successful in a few decades.
The English would not have had those first sparkling wines to enjoy, if there had not been thick-walled Digby bottles to withstand the pressure. (Of course, cork stoppers had to appear, too, but that's another story.) Consequently, a sparkler must be...
Our Wine of the Day
The Wine—Chandon Reserve Brut Cuvée 494 Sparkler Composition—Classic blend primarily of two parts Pinot Noir with one part Chardonnay. The grapes come from three of the best Napa areas, Carneros, Yountville and Mt. Veeder. Aging—4 years on the yeast. Rating—My panel found it very elegant, and gave it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. For any party, you need not buy anything pricier. Winemaker—Dawnine Dyer (photo) took the best lots of the 1994 vintage (hence, Cuvée 494) to blend today's wine. The '94 was her 19th Chandon vintage.
The winery must have liked it as much as my panel, since CEO Frederic Cumenal subsequently promoted her to oversee all Chandon winemaking, not only in California, but also in Australia, Spain, Brazil and Argentina. Contact—Office of Sandy Timpson, (707) 944-8844, FAX (707) 944-1123 Price—$24 range
Back to Britain—When Sir Digby was making those first stronger bottles in Britain, what was France's Champagne district making? Wine with no bubbles, and mostly red, not white!
The Medici, E. Pucci
Champagne, André Simon
Vintage, Hugh Johnson
About the Writer
Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.