Wine wisdom: The invention of bubbles
“Come quickly! I have opened the cava!”
Wednesday 27 April 2022
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There’s a fun story about a monk called Dom Pérignon — you might have heard of him — tasting a wine ready for service. He rushed out, this alchemist monk, into the courtyard in the dark of the early morning, crying “Come quickly! I am tasting the stars!”
Imagine the delight of popping a cork for the first time in history, and pouring freshly-fizzed Dom into your tasting chalice, watching the mousse fizzle and foam against the sides of the cup, perhaps sloshing a little on your leather slippers or wetting the loose sleeves of your habit accidentally in all the excitement. Smelling the freshly-cut apple, the elderflower, the brioche, in the quiet of your cellar.
Hate to be a buzzkill, but this story is almost definitely a porky pie. Dom Pérignon was no doubt instrumental to the perfection of what’s now known as the “méthode Champagne”, but the fizzification of alcoholic beverages was invented some 30 years earlier.
A scientist and physician called Christopher Merrett from the Cotswold town of Winchcome near Cheltenham presented the idea of adding sugar to fruit wines to encourage fizziness within them (aka. dosage) to the Royal Society in 1662. Note: He didn’t invent this winemaking method. He wrote a scientific paper about it — from which we can deduce that this process of making sparkling wine (and cider, which often doesn’t even need added sugar to create extra sparkle) had been prevalent in the years before his work was presented. How else would he have heard about it?
Later on in the 1700s, a scientist from Whitehaven in Cumbria called William Brownrigg and chemist and theologian Joseph Priestley from Birstall in Yorkshire invented carbonated water independently and separately using remarkably similar apparatus. Priestley said his sparkling water, which was made by capturing the carbon dioxide in a brewery, gave him a “peculiar satisfaction”. This was later used by Johan Jacop Schweppe to bottle soda water and sell it en masse to the public.
So whether your wine is pétillant naturel, méthode champagne, frizzante, or simply carbonated, it’s only thanks to homebrewers and scientists from the 17th and 18th centuries that we can enjoy bubbles whenever we want.
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