Did an Englishman beat the French to create the first ‘Champagne’?
In the Cotswold town of Winchcombe there is a plague which marks the occasion when an Englishman probably became the first person to record the existence of a phenomenon we now take for granted – sparkling wine. It was Christopher Merrett - a scientist, physician, naturalist and metallurgist, who in 1662, first documented the existence of bubbles in an alcoholic beverage.
English winemakers had been adding sugar to wines to give them a refreshing, sparkling quality, 30 years before a certain, very famous, monk in France's Champagne region (Dom Pérignon, who was thought to have invented sparkling wine in 1697). Ironically neither understood the process of getting the bubble into wine at the time, the result of a secondary fermentation process, the bubbles were achieved by accident. However, it is Champagne that we often associate with the crème de la crème of sparkling wine.
The irony today, possibly, is that English sparkling wine is now the finest it has ever been and may in time start to challenge Champagne in terms of quality as well as style. This is down to the fact that we have a similar climate and soil type to Champagne and we plant the same trio of grape varieties.
However, whatever the occasion there is sometimes nothing quite like a glass of fizz, so here are my sparkling recommendations for February: