When Bendictine monk Dom Perignon was making wine and couldn’t rid it of bubbles, he tasted his accidental creation and exclaimed, “Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!” Thus, according to legend, was champagne invented on this day in 1693.
At the age of 19 Dom Perignon entered the Benedictine order at the Abbey of Hautvillers near the town of Epernay, within Champagne, France. There, he served as cellar master, responsible for overseeing the abbey’s extensive wine production, aging, and storage. Perignon was tasked with ridding the abbey’s sparkling wine of bubbles, a common problem winemakers of the time experienced due to refermentation. Perignon’s failure—he was unable to de-bubble the wine—became the toast of celebrants’ throughout history when Perignon tasted his botched “wine,” on 4 August 1693 and reportedly exclaimed to his fellow monks, “Come quickly! I am drinking the stars!”
Though the triumphant legend of the invention of champagne is not verifiable, this much is true: Perignon made a significant contribution to the development of champagne when he discovered the technique that allows vintners to produce a successful white wine from red grapes. This, say vintners, was a major step toward the development of modern champagne. So popular did Perignon’s accidental bubbly wine prove, in fact, that in his day most cellars lost around 20 percent of their wine to exploding bottles. The pressure from the bubbles—now desirable—would reach such levels the bottles simply exploded. The champagne contained in those unpredictably explosive bottles was actually dubbed le vin du diable, or “the devil’s wine” by early French bon vivants because they exploded with no notice.
Today champagne undergoes two fermentations. After the first traditional fermentation and bottling, yeast and rock sugar is added to the bottle and the champagne, then sealed, is left to age for at least 1.5 years. Once the bottle reaches maturity, a process known as remuage occurs. The bottles are gradually turned until they are almost upside-down, allowing the yeast to settle at the neck of the bottle. After a quick freeze, the cap and frozen residue is removed and the bottle is quickly re-corked to maintain its carbon dioxide. Once the bottles hit the market, they’re ready—thanks to Perignon—to open with a bang.
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Caption: A statue of Dom Perignon at the Moet Chandon Champagne House in France.