Category Archives: HISTORY

a-year-in-champaign

Samuel Goldwyn Serving ‘A Year in Champagne’ in 2015

Samuel Goldwyn Films has bought North American rights to David Kennard’s documentary “A Year in Champagne” with plans for an early spring release.

Kennard’s follow-up to “A Year in Burgundy” screened at the Santa Barbara and Palm Beach International Film Festivals.

The film features behind-the-scenes footage at six Champagne houses, including Saint-Chamant, Gosset and Bollinger.

“Champagne is a beverage that people immediately associate with luxury and celebration and the film pays tribute to the region and people who make this very special wine,” said said Peter Goldwyn. “David takes the viewer on an incredible journey and delivers a vibrant, inside look at the complex world of champagne production.”

The deal was negotiated by Ian Puente and executive producer Todd Ruppert.

Goldwyn’s current titles include Freida Mock’s documentary “Anita,” William H. Macy’s feature directorial debut “Rudderless” and “The Last of Robin Hood.”

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Were Champagne glasses were modeled on Marie Antoinette’s breasts?

Woman-in-Champagne-GlassThe search for amusing bits of trivia to trot out at cocktail parties leads many to the misbelief that the saucer-shaped champagne glass was modeled on a famed beauty’s breast. Over the years, this claim has been made of a number of women:

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793): This narcissistic French queen (wife of Louis XVI and What a pair! of apocryphal “Let them eat cake!” fame) was said to have had champagne glasses fashioned from casts of her breasts so courtiers could drink to her health from them.

Madame du Pompadour (1721-1764): This mistress of France’s Louis XV supposedly had the glasses crafted as a special gift for her imperial lover who it was said greatly admired her breasts and longed to be able to drink champagne from them.

Madame du Barry (1743-1793): The same story told about du Pompadour is also told of du Barry, another mistress of France’s Louis XV.
Empress Josephine (1763-1814): This wife of Napoleon had a great fondness for the bubbly (her champagne bills were said to have horrified her husband), so it’s not surprising this legend would attach to her.

Diane de Poitiers (1499-1566): This mistress of Henry II was said to have commissioned a glassblower at their Chateau d’Anet to make them as a present to Henry, who was particularly enamored of her breasts and harbored a fantasy to drink wine from them. In another version of the tale, Henry was the one who came up with this idea, and the mold was solely of her left breast.

Helen of Troy: Helen was said to possess “the face that launched a thousand ships,” a reference to her husband, Menelaus, coming after her and her lover, Paris, with a force of thousands. It is said Paris made wax molds of her breasts, then used those molds as forms for drinking glasses.
None of the “famed beauty’s breast” tales hold up. Champagne was invented in the 17th century when a Benedictine monk discovered a way to trap bubbles of carbon dioxide in wine. As for the glass, it was designed and made in England especially for champagne around 1663, a chronology that rules out du Barry, du Pompadour, Josephine, and Marie Antoinette, all of whom were born long after the coupe came into existence. As for de Poitiers, she died a century before either the glass or the beverage was invented. And if she existed at all, Helen of Troy antedated both champagne and the champagne glass by about two millennia.

No one knows how this rumor began, but a good guess would be someone’s drunken observations on the shape of the glass coupled with a dollop of male fantasy sparked it off.

The coupe is further associated with ladies’ breasts by the oft-repeated claim that prospective members of the Folies Bergere dance troupe were subjected to a champagne glass test — a coupe fit over their naked breasts determined who was eligible. Provided the young ladies’ charms remained within the glass, they were still in the running; if their natural wonders overflowed, it was, well, tough titties for them.

Popularity and salacious lore aside, the coupe is not the glass of choice for champagne connoisseurs. Fans of the grape swear that the best glasses to tipple from are flutes, which are tall and thin with lips that curve inward slightly at the top. Flutes concentrate the bubbles and the bouquet, heightening the champagne experience. Coupes encourage the wine to warm and go flat quickly.

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A Melchizedek of champers: 9 word facts about champagne

Glasses1It’s always difficult to say “Hello!” to January and “Good-bye…” to the holidays. Suddenly we find ourselves bogged down by the usual January blues—not to mention subjected to Blue Monday’s annual arrival — and burdened by certain debts after all that sweet and savory celebrating. Cookies, cakes, candy…butter cast haphazardly into every bubbling pot or whirring food mixer…and all capped off with a good dose of champagne come New Year’s Eve!

If it is going to be a while before you pop the next champagne cork, and you want to stave off those January blues, here’s a list of 9 interesting (and 0-calorie) champagne-related word facts to help you last until your next fix of bubbles.

1. The word champagne is derived from Latin campania, first used to describe the level open countryside around Rome. It now refers to a province in northeast France where the champagne grapes are grown, as well as to the wine itself. Latin campania is a derivative of campus, originally meaning simply a field; now in English, ‘campus’ denotes the grounds of a college or university.

2. Bubbly, a common nickname for champagne, is short for the now rarebubbly water. However, the wine was not always bubbly; up through the 19th century champagne was known largely as a pink, still wine. Any bubbliness posed difficulties: the wine would stop fermenting during the cold winters and then re-ferment in the spring, resulting in a release of carbon dioxide that tended to break the bottles. Eventually, the development of stronger bottles meant that drinkers could enjoy the sparkle that would become a defining characteristic of champagne.

3. The word bubble comes from the noun burble (also meaning a bubble), which comes from the now-obsolete verb burble, meaning to form bubbles; it’s probably onomatopoeic, a theory which makes sense if you imagine the sound of bubbles forming and popping , for example, in boiling water.

4. Speaking of onomatopoeias, another word for champagne (as well as any sparkling drink) is fizz; the noun comes from the verb fizz, a word which is purely imitative of the sound it represents.

5. An informal British name for champagne is champers. We see this same, typically British formulation of first-syllable plus -ers suffix in words likepreggers (pregnant).

6. You can also call champagne by the abbreviation sham. Compare alsoshampoo, an arbitrary alteration of the word.

7. If you’ve heard of champagne—or have 50 Cent or Jay-Z in your MP3 player—you’ve probably heard of Dom Pérignon, the prestigious brand of champagne often enjoyed by the rich and the famous. It’s named for Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk of the 17th century who contributed largely to the improvement of (still) Champagne wines during his lifetime. “Dom” was not his first name, by the way; instead, it’s a title (short for the Latin Dominus, ‘master’) given to certain distinguished Benedictine and Carthusian monks.

8. If you really want to impress your friends, tell them pre-toast that the champagne you’re about to enjoy is brut or demi-sec: two French words designating the taste of the wine. Brut champagne is unsweetened; the wordbrut means ‘rough’ or ‘raw’. (It’s related to the English brute, or ‘a savagely violent person or animal’, and comes from the Latin brutus meaning ‘dull, stupid’—just ask Julius Caesar.) Demi-sec, on the other hand, indicates a medium dry (or moderately sweetened) wine. We see a relative of this word in the German sparkling wine Sekt.

9. Have you ever seen one of those enormous bottles of champagne in a store window (and felt a hangover coming on just from looking at one of them)—40 times the size of a standard wine bottle? One of these enormous bottles is called a Melchizedek, named for the king and priest of the Book of Genesis who blesses Abram; his name literally means ‘my king is righteous’. Indeed, there are many different sized bottles of wine—from 0.1875 liters to 40—and, curiously, most are named for Biblical figures like Melchizedek. (Half a Melchizedek is a Nebuchadnezzar, for instance, and a fifth of a Melchizedek is known as a Methuselah.)

However, if it seems a bit too indulgent to pop another cork this year—or if (heaven forbid) you “get no kick from champagne” at all—it’s important to remember what can truly banish the January gloom: friends. (Especially friends who are happy to be regaled with tales of Benedictine monks and unexpected cognates at the next champagne-drinking opportunity!)

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Like Drinking the Stars! Dom Pérignon

dom-perignon-5Legend has it that Dom Pérignon, upon taking his first sip of Champagne, gushed, “I am drinking the stars!”

Though this is pure fiction, an early example of marketing baloney, Dom Pérignon was in fact a real person. His major claim to fame: he was responsible for advancing the quality of champagne in the late 17th, early 18th centuries.

Pérignon is credited with perfecting the art of blending Champagne. He blended grapes from different vineyards before pressing, choosing batches according to location, ripeness, and flavor. Through careful blending, he arrived at a consistent, distinctive flavor, a house style, a brand.

And that’s really the art of blending: creating a wine that, though the vintages change, remains relatively consistent in flavor.

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The Story of Champagne

champagne-pommery-basementDid you know the bubbles in Champagne were first considered a flaw?

Early winemakers of the Champagne region of France didn’t want effervescent wine. They considered bubbles a defect, a corruption of the still, fizz-free wine they were trying to make.

These bothersome bubbles came about unintentionally. The weather was the culprit. Being so far north, the temperature in Champagne sometimes turned too cool too soon, stopping the fermentation process short.

Once placed into bottles, this partially fermented wine became little glass time-bombs. When temperatures warmed up again in the spring, fermentation rebooted–only this time inside the bottle. The build-up of carbon dioxide (a byproduct of fermentation) created intense pressure inside the bottles and turned the tranquil cellars of Champagne into war zones of exploding bottles–and presumably led to a tremendous boon for the eye patch industry around Reims.

Of course, when the bottles didn’t burst, this secondary fermentation created bubbles, which were released harmlessly when the bottles were uncorked.

Faced with a potentially defective product, there was only one thing to do: call in the marketers! The marketing pros took what was essentially a flaw and turned it into a fabulous selling point! They positioned Champagne as a fun, festive wine. Today, of course, the very word “Champagne” is practically a synonym for celebration.

And job one for the marketers of Champagne? No doubt it was to build a better bottle, one that wouldn’t explode shards of glass into customers’ faces! (Such a thing was not considered particularly festive even by early marketing standards.) You’ll notice that today’s sparkling wines come in thick, unexploding glass bottles.

Making It Bubbly

In this way, Champagne signals the first modern wine, certainly the first mass-marketed wine. It also requires quite the industrial process. To produce Champagne, or sparkling wine, in modern times, a syrupy sugar mixture (dosage de tirage) is added to still wine to ensure a reliable secondary fermentation in the bottle. This secondary fermentation creates sediment called lees (dead yeast cells), which settle and collect in the neck of the bottle (the bottles are placed tilting forward). After a time, the bottles are uncorked, the lees are removed, and the bottles are topped off with a dosage d’expedition–a splash of extra wine to fill the gap. The lees give flavor. When disgorged, there will likely not be further quality development. So the more “time on lees” the better.

As you can see, the process of making champagne is time consuming and requires a lot of labor. And that’s the rub! Good champagne is usually pretty pricey. Excellent champagne can be stratospheric–truly the stuff for special occasions.

The Grapes that Make Champagne

Another interesting thing about Champagne is it is often made with black grapes. Specifically, Pinot Noir (also Meunier). Often Champagne is a blend of both white and black grapes. When only black or only white grapes are used, the label will let you know:

Champagne made with only black grapes will be labeled blanc de noir (white from black).
Blanc de blanc (white from white) means the grapes are all white grapes, specifically Chardonnay.
Interestingly, a blanc de noir wine does not mean it will be rosé in color. The wine might be a little more golden than a blanc de blanc, but it will still be white. Rosé champagne gets its color from still red wine being added to the bottle.

The Size of Your Bubbles

When it comes to bubbles, size does seem to matter. Small bubbles generally suggest better quality in a sparkling wine. Larger bubbles can indicate that the wine was fermented in a giant vat instead of inside the bottle according to the dictates of the vaunted Champagne method. Done correctly, you will find millions upon millions of tiny bubbles in each bottle.