kottke.org posts about christophermerret

Champagne, an English inventionJun 11 2008

Venez vite, je goûte les étoiles!

Attributed to French monk Dom Pierre Pérignon upon his discovery of Champagne. It's typically translated into English as:

Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!

Although Pérignon made important advances in sparkling wine production, a reproducible process for making sparkling wine (of which Champagne is one variety) was actually first described by an Englishman, Christopher Merret, some thirty years before. In a paper presented to the Royal Society, Merret noted that the addition of sugar to wine would result in a second fermentation, which made the wine sparkle.

Merret came to sparkling wine through his interest in glass. The process of secondary fermentation had been known since before medieval times but was not reproducible because the glass bottles would explode under the pressure. Using stronger English glass and sturdy corks, Merret was able to dependably reproduce the sparkling effect and publish the technique for anyone to do the same. A bit less glamorous than "drinking the stars" perhaps, but a deft illustration of the scientific method nonetheless.

BTW, Moët and Chandon, producers of the Dom Pérignon brand of Champagne, still perpetuate the myth that Dom Pérignon invented the method for making sparkling wine. From the DP web site:

Make "the best wine in the world." It took a visionary spirit and exceptional daring to set such an exalted ambition at the end of the 17th century. But vision and daring were second nature to Pierre Pérignon. Before him, there was only what was known as the wines of Reims, of La Montagne and of La Rivière, according to their origins in the Champagne region. With amazing intuition, Dom Pérignon was the first to see the fabulous promise of luxury. He took very ordinary wines and gave them body, spirit and grace. Through his efforts Champagne wine entered a new world.

Whatever helps you sell the Champers, I guess.

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