Home | Cookbooks | Diary | Magic Menu | Surprise! | More ≡



Remember gentlemen, it's not just France we are fighting for, it's Champagne!
Winston Churchill

Champagne is a sparkling wine from France. Apart from the fact that the UK is by far the largest export market for the drink, the form Champagne takes today has only come about because of three significant English developments.

Punch's homage to Champagne, 1891

Wine simply bottled before it has finished fermenting (methode rurale) naturally becomes fizzy, and this, somewhat hit-and-miss, method had been followed in France (and elsewhere, cf; 'Gooseberry Champagne' or Quick Ale) for generations. In 1662 the English scientist Christopher Merret presented a paper to the Royal Society in London explaining a more reliable method of making wine sparkle - this is the procedure which became known as methode champenoise and is now universally followed in the French region. It is not clear whether Merret invented the method or merely codified it, but he was certainly several years ahead of the French wine-maker monk Dom Perignon.

Christopher Merret.
Possibly the inventor of sparkling wine. Possibly not.

Street sign in Epernay, the centre of Champagne

The second English contribution was the bottle. Around the same time as Merret, Sir Robert Mansell's factories in Newcastle-on-Tyne were able to make the first glass bottles strong enough to safely withstand the pressure of a sparkling wine.

Champagne bottle from 1811
Image: http://www.sha.org/bottle/wine.htm

The third English contribution was when Perrier-Jout, in response to demands from their English dealers, prepared an unsweetened 'brut' Champagne specifically for the British market. This is the style of wine which is now known as 'Champagne' the world over.

The wine merchants Berry Brothers and Rudd of London say that they formerly supplied Champagne in pint bottles, favoured by Winston Churchill. We have been unable to establish whether the 'pints' were English wine pints of 474ml, or 568ml ale pints, or the 500ml 'Jennie' pint still used in France, or perhaps the Old French wine pint of a truly Churchillian 952ml. While other wines such as Sauternes and Tokaj are frequently supplied in 'modern pint' bottles, their use for Champagne was officially discontinued in 2007.

Cartoon from 'Punch', 1872
Cheekily suggesting that the English Goosberry Wine version is the origin of Champagne

cf. Whisky.

MORE FROM Foods of England...
Cookbooks Diary Index Magic Menu Random Really English? Timeline Donate English Service Food Map of England Lost Foods Accompaniments Biscuits Breads Cakes and Scones Cheeses Classic Meals Curry Dishes Dairy Drinks Egg Dishes Fish Fruit Fruits & Vegetables Game & Offal Meat & Meat Dishes Pastries and Pies Pot Meals Poultry Preserves & Jams Puddings & Sweets Sauces and Spicery Sausages Scones Soups Sweets and Toffee About ... Bookshop

Email: editor@foodsofengland.co.uk