Sparkling Wines - Throughout History
The origin of sparkling wine dates back centuries, with its first written mention in France dating back to 1718, indicating its presence as early as 1695-1698. During that period, sparkling wine was widely consumed in England and was frequently mentioned by playwrights of the time. Even in English literature, we can find early references in Sir George Etherege’s play “The Man of Mode,” written in 1676.
Christopher Merret, an English physician and scientist, is known for his contribution to the world of champagne. While Dom Perignon is often credited with the discovery of bubbles in champagne, it was Merret who presented a memorandum to the Royal Society in 1662, explaining how to add sugar and molasses to wine barrels to produce sparkling wine. Although it is unclear whether Merret fully understood the fermentation process, his description marked the beginning of the scientific understanding of how bubbles form in champagne.
Although the English were the first to appreciate the bubbles in champagne, this does not mean they invented it. Champagne producers in France had been making wine with unfermented yeast for over 150 years before Merret’s contribution. Therefore, it could be said that champagne is a Franco-English creation resulting from years of evolution.
Initially, sparkling champagne was considered dangerous due to the pressure generated by carbon dioxide in the bottles, which could cause them to explode and destroy other bottles in the cellar. Additionally, many winegrowers and connoisseurs considered bubbles to be characteristic of less serious beverages, such as beer or chocolate. However, at the court of Versailles and in the salons of London, the effervescence of champagne added an element of excitement and mystery.
As for the early champagnes, they did not have bubbles. Charles de Marguetel de Saint-Denis de Saint-Évremond, a French exile in England and a friend of King Charles II, was an advocate for still champagne, whether red or white. The family of Marquis de Sillery also produced a highly regarded still champagne cuvée in Great Britain.
By the late 17th century, still red wines from Champagne lost popularity when Louis XIV’s physician recommended Burgundy wine instead. In the following decades, Champagne producers competed to produce the best pinot noir red wine, while some made rosé wines and others preferred pale and clear wines. In 1712, accidentally sparkling wines were first mentioned under the name “mousse argentina.” At that time, enjoying these sparkling bottles was considered inconceivable.
In summary, Christopher Merret was an English scientist who described the process of adding sugar and molasses to wine barrels to obtain sparkling wine. Although the English were the first to appreciate the bubbles in champagne, its origin can be traced back to Champagne producers in France. Initially, sparkling champagne was considered dangerous and less serious than other wines, but over time, it became an exciting and appreciated beverage at the court and in salons.