Champagne, the multifaceted myth
A precious wine that seduces from the first sip, the king of festive effervescence and exceptional moments, champagne already had all the right attributes for mythical status. But other elements of its history have contributed to reinforce this legendary repute over the centuries, a epic romance that is established from the very beginning and continues to this day.
Shaped by the religious
More famous for its wool trade, the Champagne region was initially not considered a wine region, but that was before the involvement of the Benedictine monks who never ceased to work on improving it to make the noble product we know today. Contrary to a widespread myth cultivated by some champagne houses, it was not the religious who primarily made it, but rather the wool producers who used to offer it to their customers as a promotional gift. Seeing its growing success, they saw the opportunity to take part in a more profitable business. Nevertheless, in everyone’s mind, champagne still belongs to the monks, including a certain Dom Pérignon.
Adopted by royalty for its opulence
Was it a matter of chance or was it destiny? In 496 A.D., Clovis was crowned in Reims and with him, Champagne plunged into the royal pool of opulence. A tradition that anchors it in a festive universe reserved for a certain elite. King Louis XIV brought it to the court of Versailles and he spread its fame all over the world, even to the court of the tsar in Moscow. It accompanies the most extravagant rituals and it is inseparable from the Sun King’s other obsessions, namely fashion, luxury and seduction. During the Napoleonic era, it was sabre-slashed by the hussars during victories, an explosion full of panache that is practised today at the Canard-Duchêne estate in Ludes.
One might have feared that the consumption of champagne would die out after the revolution because of unfortunate royal associations. However, champagne continues to grow and has become the emblem of an art of living, mixing leisure, culture, travel and, of course, gastronomy. Champagne is everywhere, especially in the 19th century when it was used in different universes, as a sparkling muse on a hot-air balloon, at the 1889 World’s Fair, and later in the James Bond films. No longer confined to the chapel, now a seductive free spirit, appreciated by the great personalities who never cease praising its power of seduction. From Coco Chanel to Winston Churchill to Amélie Nothomb, everyone has their own little catchphrase:
“I only drink champagne on two occasions. When I am in love and when I am not. ” Coco Chanel
“I could not live without champagne. If I win I deserve it, if I lose I need it. ” Winston Churchill
“I have no hesitation in saying that champagne is my first love. * ” Amélie Nothomb
National pride and always "so French"
Voltaire said that “champagne is the shining image of our nation”, and it is true that it could have disappeared with the trappings of royalty, but instead, it has become republican by embodying the values of France to the point of becoming one of the country’s symbols. The industrial revolution and the development of transport have enabled it to travel to the four corners of the world, exporting the wealth of a unique terroir and exceptional know-how. A French icon whose name alone is enough to evoke more than a wine, but a moment.
*Madame Figaro dated 18/11/2019
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