by Fred McMillin
for December 31, 1998


New Year's Eve...Monks, Corks & Bubbles


Dom Perignon, a 17th century French monk is widely credited with inventing champagne...including developing an efficient champagne cork [inspired by visiting Spanish monks with cork stoppers in their water bottles].

...Ann Walker in Bayfood

1718, Reims, Champagne District—A peer of the monk says more than 20 years have passed since Dom Perignon created Champagne, which the people have "frantically adored." This would have placed the invention a little before 1698.

...Henry Vizetelly's 1882 History of Champagne

Countess Magairet
Near Dom Perignon's Abby,
which still stands, Countess Magairet tells Mrs. McMillin,
how the black-robed monk
created sparkling wine, or did he?

The Rest of the Story

So Spanish and French monks are responsible for an essential element of the champagne story... the use of the cork to retain the bubbles in the sparkling wine. Tonight we should pause and toast that event of about 1695.

But wait! Listen to this. None other than the great author Andre Simon tells us, "Strange as it may seem, Champagne was first bottled, sold and drunk as a sparkling wine during the 1660's in London. The reason for this is obvious: They had corks from Spain in London and they had none then in the landlocked province of Champagne."

From a 1676 English play, The Man of The Mode:

    'To the Mall and the park
    Where we love till tis' dark,
    Then sparkling Champaign (sic)
    Puts an end to their reign.'

Clearly, wine was bubbling in London before it was in Reims. Ergo, perhaps we should toast some unknown, creative English wine merchant.

However, there's no controversy about Spain's role in supplying the corks to both regions, so tonight I'm hoisting a California bubbly with Spanish roots, Gloria Ferrer.

The Wine

1990 Royal Cuvee
Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves
Grapes—Carneros Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (30%)
Aging - Six years on the yeast. Spell that toasty and nutty.
Price - $20 range


Given the importance of Spain in our story, the name "Royal Cuvee" is particularly germane. The sparkler was named in honor of the visit to Northern California in 1987 of the Spanish King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia some three centuries after their country's corks stoppered the world's first sparklers. (Portuguese corks will be granted equal time later!)

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.



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