Discovery of the history of Champagne and its cellars

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We’ve all raised a glass of Champagne in celebration, but do you know when Champagne’s history began? Or why it’s become synonymous with party traditions?

Let’s explore together the origins of Champagne, the prestigious Champagne Houses, and their iconic chalk cellars.

Champagne Chronicles: Exploring Its Roots

history of champagne,origins of champagne,champagne houses,oldest champagne house - Discovery of the history of Champagne and its cellars - 2024 - 3

Do you know who invented Champagne? What are the origins of Champagne? Who is the oldest Champagne House? Soon, Champagne will hold no secrets for you!

Origins of Champagne

The first still Champagne wines emerged in the 7th century, primarily through ecclesiastical viticulture. It became a significant source of income for monasteries like Hautvillers and the abbey of Saint-Pierre-aux-Monts, which cultivated numerous vineyards. Over the centuries, the monks refined their winemaking techniques during the feudal era.

Did you know that Champagne might never have been created? In the 17th century, the gray wines from the Champagne region started gaining popularity among the royal courts of England and France. The English introduced the glass bottle for wine and the cork stopper in the mid-century. According to Champagne’s history, the wine naturally developed bubbles once bottled due to incomplete fermentation. This wasn’t initially appreciated by French winegrowers due to the risk of exploding bottles. Luckily, the English developed a taste for it and continued to import barrels from Champagne.

In 1670, a monk at the Hautvillers abbey named Dom Pérignon conducted an experiment by blending different grape varieties and vintages to create sparkling Champagne wines. This monk would later lend his name to the famous Champagne house. He also pioneered improvements to bottle and cork designs. As a result, sparkling Champagne began being sold in specially reinforced bottles by 1695. Thirty-four years later, the first Champagne trading house was established by Mr. Ruinart in Reims.

History of Champagne
Champagne cellar

Ruinart Champagne House: Pioneers of Tradition

While Champagne Houses boast significant historical heritage, one stands out above the rest: Ruinart Champagne House. Established in 1729 in Reims, Mr. Ruinart was the trailblazer, founding the very first Champagne House. Today, they welcome visitors to explore their estate and cellars, offering an opportunity to discover the incredible Champagne craftsmanship.

Don’t miss out on the chance to book your visit and wine tasting at Ruinart Champagne when you’re in Reims!

What makes a good Champagne stand out?

Champagne is a sparkling wine with a protected designation of origin. This designation is granted based on criteria such as geographical delimitation, grape varieties used, and yields. To meet the requirements before labeling their wine as “champagne,” winemakers must also adhere to three Champagne methods of winemaking.

Champagne dosage

To add a personalized touch to their champagne, winegrowers have the option to include a dosage liqueur before bottling their vintage: this is known as Champagne dosage. The amount of liquor (or added sugar) determines what you’ll find on the labels of bottles used to classify champagnes:

  • Brut Nature: no added sugar;
  • Extra Brut and Extra Dry: both indicate a drier style than Brut Nature, though still with a noticeable acidity.
  • Dry: akin to Brut, but with a touch more sugar, maintaining a balanced acidity.
  • Semi-Dry: the fruitiest type of Champagne, often with notes of apricots and lychees.
  • Sweet (over 50g/L): a very sweet sparkling beverage.

We’ve classified them from least sweet to most sweet. There are also rosé and vintage Champagnes (a blend of different vintages), as well as single-grape varieties such as Blancs de Blancs or Blancs de Noirs. In 2019, The Pol Roger brand was ranked the best Champagne House of the year, surpassing Krug, Louis Roederer, Dom Perignon, Taittinger, and Ruinart. The history of Champagne also revolves around the houses that represent it and sometimes compete, all while defending the values of this precious nectar.

Exploring Descriptive Techniques

Like all wines, Champagne expresses various aromas, colors, and textures – but it has its own special vocabulary when it comes to describing it.

Hearing

We’ve all heard that distinctive “pop” sound when opening a Champagne bottle – and it’s an integral part of understanding the identity of the beverage you’re about to taste! The release of the cork produces a soft hiss or sigh.

Sight

Like with all wines, this is the second step. For Champagne, your focus will be on understanding the types of bubbles, which can be described as:

  • Medium-sized
  • Steady
  • Streaming
  • Moving in groups,
  • Light and tiny
  • Fast and furious (yes indeed!)
  • Slow and shy

As for the mousse, you can describe it as creamy, white, fine, enduring, lively, elegant, graceful, pale, or frothy.

Nose & Smell

Champagne is truly delicate, and its effervescence adds even more complexity to its bouquet. There are several steps to defining the nose of Champagne:

  • First nose: When the bottle is opened, it releases initial aromas that you can define as fruity, floral, mature, or subtle.
  • Second nose: Once in your glass, the aromas will continue to evolve. With a little time, you’ll notice the nose becomes deeper and more complex.

Palate & Taste

When Champagne touches your tongue, you experience a multitude of sensations, from the tip to the back of your palate. You’ll seek to define intensity, completeness, sharpness, richness, and perhaps even perfection. Your tongue and palate offer different clues:

  • Palate: if the beverage is rather round, long, lively or agile.
  • Tong: if you can taste red berries, musky, toasty or brioche-kind or notes.

The different sizes of Champagne bottles

From small bottles to huge ones, the size of Champagne bottles is a true criteria.

  • Magnum: 1.5L
  • Jeroboam: 3L
  • Rehoboam: 4.5L
  • Methuselah: 6L
  • Salmanazar: 9L
  • Balthazar: 12L
  • Nebuchadnezzar: 15L
  • Solomon: 18L
  • Sovereign: 25L
  • Primat: 27L
  • Melchizedek: 30L

You might wonder: does the size bottle matter compared to the quality of Champagne? It does a little, this is related to the amount of oxygen that enter during the bottling process. So, the larger the bottle, the less oxygen there is in contact with the sparkling beverage, which becomes more delicate and has more finesse.

How to properly taste Champagne?

Before tasting your Champagne, avoid consuming anything overly spicy or sweet throughout the day. Champagne should be served between 8 and 10°C, ideally in a slender flute glass to preserve the bubbles and enhance the concentration of aromas.

The tasting process involves three stages: sight, smell, and finally taste. Our partner winegrowers will guide you through all the specific codes and vocabulary related to sensory expression during an oenological workshop or Champagne tasting, along with essential evaluation techniques.

For accompanying Champagne as an aperitif, remember that slightly sweet Champagne pairs well with dishes that are not overly sweet. A plain or extra-brut Champagne complements seafood and fish-based starters perfectly. If you prefer cheese, a vintage brut pairs well unless the cheese has a strong flavor. For desserts, fruits, or chocolate, consider a dry, semi-dry, or sweet Champagne for pairing.

Wine tourism in Champagne wine region

For the curious and lovers of fine bubbles, Winalist opens the doors to the greatest Champagne Houses to you. Visit chalk cellars from Reims, taste the Moët & Chandon, Taittinger or Mumm vintages, or enjoy a tasting picnic in the heart of the Champagne Vollereaux vineyards.

With just a few clicks, you can book your wine tourism experience and access the best of wine tourism in Champagne.

FAQ & Useful resources

How was champagne first discovered?

The sparkling version of the Champagne wine was discovered by accident. It all began when the wine growers (today’s famous Champagne Houses) from the Champagne region were trying to equal the Burgundy wines.

What is the history of champagne?

The history of Champagne began when the Romans planted vineyards in this region of northeast France in the 5th century, or possibly earlier. Over centuries, Champagne evolved from being a pale, pinkish still wine to a sparkling wine.

Who is the father of Champagne?

Three centuries later, Dom Pérignon perpetuates this exceptional artisan’s vision and work, and he is now considered to be the spiritual father of Champagne.

What does Champagne symbolize?

In addition to being a reference, it is also a symbol. Throughout the world, it is perceived as the wine of happiness and celebration par excellence, which presides over all moments of celebration and success, whether in family life or in love, in international and professional relations, and even in the sports world.

What is Champagne made out?

If there is one thing to say about Champagne specificities compared to wine, is that Champagne is made from a double fermentation of the grape’s juice, and that it’s a sparkling beverage. The main grapes that give birth to Champagne are Pinot Noire, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.