This season has been spectacularly hard to write TIP’s for, mostly because since the James Bond-ian thing is figuratively out the window, there are a lot less instances for people to drink really fancy things like martinis, Pimms cups, or flaming sambucas. As unfortunate as that may be when it comes to making this side project harder, it has been forcing me to research individual spirits in depth, which can sometimes lead to interesting stories. Not really sure if this is one of them.
We’ll see how it goes.
Somewhere in the time frame of 529 years after J-Day, in the town of Subiaco, a dude named Benedict of Nursia is born. Very little is known about him except that he became a bit of a hermit in his youth. He literally lived in a cave for 3 years or so. In his time of isolation, he came up with some guidelines for the operation of monasteries. Apparently people have thought they were pretty good guidelines. They get used a lot. That’s what I’ve read at least.
Fast forward about a thousand years or so. December of 1638. Pierre Pérignon is born. He’s wet. He’s sticky. Lots of crying. Someone cleans him up. You know the drill.
And so did his mother. Pierre was her seventh child. She died the summer after his birth. More crying. Shovels. Grave stones. Prayers.
Pérignon’s father bounces him around to several Benedictine Abbeys as a child and he gets pretty good at singing in their choirs. At the Abbey of Hautvillers, he also gets pretty good at taking care of the cellars. If you were 30 years old and someone asked if you’d like to work in a wine cellar, you’d probably get good at it too. Kind of a no brainer.
The unfortunate part about the Abbey of Hautvillers is that it is located in the northern part of France, not terribly far from Paris (144 Km), and up in that region it can get pretty cold in the fall. Cold enough that if you harvest your grapes in september and bottled any of your wines during the cold season, you’d run the risk of losing your product.
How, you ask?
Well, if temperatures are too cold, yeast goes dormant and quits fermenting sugars. If you don’t know much about science, you might mistake this as a sign that the yeast have run out of sugars, and have stopped activity do to a lack of food. Well, if you put yeast in a bottle that still has plenty of sugar in it, and the alcohol content is low enough for the yeast to come back to life in the spring, what you end up with is a time bomb. The yeast begin converting the sugars to alcohol, and CO2, the pressure from the CO2 builds up to the point that the glass shatters, and your wine sprays all over the walls and floor of the cellar. Pierre gets a bucket. Pierre gets a mop. Pierre cries yet again.
Even if the bottle doesn’t explode, when you uncork the bottle, what you end up with is a fizzy, sparkling wine that in the 17th century was not looked upon as good thing. It was a sign that you were making an unpredictable and potentially dangerous wine.
Because of this, Pérignon spent a large part of his time at the abbey trying to figure out how to better control the fermentation process, so that he wouldn’t lose so much of his wine each spring.
Fuck. I forgot something.
Let’s rewind just a bit.
The Abbey of Hautvillers is in a region of France known as Champagne.
When you’re a monk at an abbey, you often get a little sir name tacked onto the front of your name: Dom. It’s short for Dominus: latin for Master. Pierre didn’t go by Pierre.
He was Dom Pérignon of Hautvillers, Champagne, France.
Now don’t get ahead of me thinking that Dom Pérignon was the inventor of the famously fizzy sparkling wine. He most certainly was not, though many legends inaccurately claim he was. Pérignon spent his life trying to rid his wines of fizz. That said, Pérignon was instrumental in other developments and insight to the winemaking process. He understood the best time of the day to pick grapes, the best way to transport them, and the quality produced by each step of the pressing process.
When it comes down to who actually can lay claim to popularizing the fizzy bottles, you can actually thank the English. Even the non-fizzy wines from champagne were well regarded, and nobles from England would have them shipped over to the island to serve to their guests on special occasions. Sometimes the wines were fizzy, sometimes they weren’t. The English actually seemed to enjoy the bubbles, and set out to understand why they appeared. In 1662, English scientist Christopher Merret published a paper describing how the presence of sugar in wine was what caused the bubbles and that any wine could become sparkling if a small amount of sugar was added to the bottle.
Go fucking figure.
Anyway, the famous Champagne, by the name of Dom Pérignon, was not actually established by the monk himself. Just think of it as the Sam Adam’s of the champagne world. Sam Adam’s did make beer for a little while (albeit, unsuccessfully), but he didn’t start any companies named after himself.
A few notes on drinking champagne:
- It is best enjoyed chilled. Not only is it best enjoyed that way, but it is also less likely to lose carbonation that way. I’m not sure what it is about cold, perhaps the slowing of molecules, leading to less CO2 loss, but cold temperatures keep fizz longer. Perhaps I need to do more research into this. By research, I mean drinking. Obviously.
- Also on the subject of bubbles and preserving them, the champagne flute glass, is designed to reduce the surface area of the liquid, thus keeping more fizz for longer. This is the same principal for the shape of a Collins glass. If a drink is fizzy, decreasing the surface area by placing it into a tall, narrow glass, will keep it fizzy longer.
- As with any chilled drink that is served in stemware, it is best to hold the glass by the stem, and not the bowl. This keeps your hot, sweaty, grubby mits away from the cold liquid, keeping it colder, longer. Don’t be a noob. Don’t grab the bowl. Got it?
Bourbon. Rocks. Breakfast of Champions!!!
Speaking of Breakfast: Eggs Woodhouse. Or poached eggs or whatever your servant knows how to make.