It is the English who deserve credit for inventing Champagne, even if they did it by accident, Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger has said in a media interview.
Taittinger, a self-confessed anglophile and CEO of the eponymous Champagne house, waded into the long-running debate over the origins of France’s premier sparkling wine during a video interview with Le Figaro newspaper.
Prompted by the interviewer, Taittinger agreed that the English had invented Champagne, albeit unwittingly. ‘They created Champagne…because of a mistake,’ he said.
He explained that still red and white wines made by Benedictine monks had been shipped across the Channel, but the English left the wines in the London docks, where conditions caused a second fermentation to begin.
‘Like so many big mistakes, it led to a great invention,’ said Taittinger, who has joined with partners to plant a vineyard in southern England. He also crediting a ‘crazy’ side to the English psyche that meant people began to see the fizzy wines as desirable.
Champagne’s true origins have been debated many times over the years.
Some have credited the monk Dom Pérignon with the development of the so-called ‘Méthode Champenoise’ in the late 17th Century.
However, Royal Society records in the UK show that, in December 1662, English scientist Christopher Merret presented a paper on winemaking and described how English merchants would add sugar and molasses to wines to ‘make them drink brisk [frothy] and sparkling’.
It has been reported that Dom Pérignon’s early work in French cellars was actually to prevent a second fermentation in the bottle; a feature initially considered a fault by producers. That stance later changed, of course.
Dom Pérignon is credited with doing much to improve the quality of winemaking and of viticulture during his time as cellarmaster at the Abbey of HautVillers near to Épernay.
It has been argued, therefore, that Dom Pérignon played a crucial role in perfecting the ‘Méthode Champenoise’ that we associate with Champagne and several other sparkling wines today.
The UK is the biggest export market for Champagne in terms of volume, with 27.8 million bottles shipped in 2017.
The perfect temperature for secondary fermentation in the bottle is between 9 and 12 degrees celsius, according to the union of Champagne houses (UMC).