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Sunbeams in Winter


Dom Perignon tasting champagne for the first time

Winter is at its depth now. Everything is brown and lifeless and you wonder when there will ever be a sunny day!


Wait, though: this is when you have time to reflect on your cellar, to make buying decisions for the future and most importantly to look over your stocks, find those forgotten treasures and bring them up into the house for immediate consumption.


Champagne is the best antidote to the winter blues, and as a prelude to those long and memorable winter lunches and dinners, when it seems that time and life will never end, and friendship is eternal.


The juice of the grape is the liquid quintessence of concentrated sunbeams, and champagne one of its finest creations. But one of the greatest mysteries of the wine industry is "Who invented champagne?"


Most people assume that the Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon, who was the cellar master of an ancient hillside abbey in the village of Hautvillers in the 1660s, invented champagne. Sadly, this was a marketing invention: he was in fact a master wine blender whose legendary wines did not have bubbles.


Wine historians now believe that sparkling wine didn't even originate in France, and that it was first invented and consumed in Great Britain where there was already a small market for effervescent wines in the 1660s.


British makers were exploring different methods of adding "fizz", or "mousse", several decades before that style of wine became popular in France. Wealthy British consumers, anxious to prevent their expensive imported barrels of white wine from becoming infected with the vinegar bacterium, began to put their white wines from the Champagne region into bottles. 17th Century French law provided that French wine had to be sold in barrel, which meant that when opened, the barrel content would rapidly oxidize and then go sour.


When bottling their wine, the British would add a dose of brandy as a preservative, and inevitably some yeast and sugar would enter the mix, leading to a secondary fermentation and the bubbly, festive drink we have come to love so much.


Luckily for drinkers, the glass bottles produced in Britain were stronger than their European counterparts and so were able to withstand the pressure generated by the dosage process.


Today, excellent champagne is being made in southern England, and the French are purchasing large tracts of land in those areas to enable the continuing production of delicate Champagne styles which are harder to make in the traditional areas of France because of global warming.


So, the French have much to thank their great rivals the British for!


Our new 2019 wines continue to develop well. We will have some spectacular releases later in the year, so keep your eyes peeled! And we've just released a new Grampians Riesling which is outstanding value: go to the shop and take a look, you won't regret it.


Good hunting, and safe and happy drinking.


Peter and John




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