Champagne and New Year’s Eve

Champagne and New Year's Champagne and New Year’s Eve have long been linked together. Celebrating the end of the year past and the start of the New Year on the horizon with a glass of the bubbly just seem to go together. So why do we do it?

According to Bloomberg’s “Why Do We Drink Champagne on New Year’s Eve?,” it all started 1,500 years ago if not longer. According to legend, King Clovis promised his wife that if he won the next battle fighting to defend his northern territory in France, he would convert to Christianity. Battle won… and he was baptized in Reims, a city in the heart of France’s Champagne region. Reims became the site for coronations for centuries afterward.

At the time, wine was typically consumed in the year in which the grapes were harvested, only fermenting for a few weeks. As trade expanded, wines (stored in barrels) were shipped farther distances and often not opened until the following year, and the wine inside had become effervescent. This new fizziness resulted from the yeast (dormant in cold weather) waking up in warm weather and consuming the grape sugars left in the wine. The by-products of this “consumption” were (and are) alcohol and carbon dioxide. When a wine ferments in a closed container, the carbon dioxides infuses the liquid and the result is sparkling wine.

The Champagne region became known for its sparkling wines (growing in popularity in England and Holland – climates too cold to support grapes) because it had several rivers on which to ship the product, making it easier to ship farther distances.

Two well-known characters now enter the story: Dom Perignon, who began packaging the product in bottles to preserve the sparkle and securing those bottles with tied corks, and King Louis XV, who decreed that only Champagne’s wines could be shipped in bottles. With a corner on the market, Champagne merchants began focusing on creating sparkling wine rather than other commodities.

As industrialization grew in the 19th Century and a newly rich merchant class formed, Champagne consumption was no longer limited to the ruling class; however, it’s expense still limited it to special occasions – weddings, ship christenings, and yes, New Year’s Eve.

Today: Champagne Versus Sparking Wine

Now that you know the history behind Champagne, it should be easy to remember that only sparkling wines that come from the Champagne region of France may be called Champagne. Sparkling wines produced in any other area should not be called Champagne although some California producers still attach that moniker, according to The Wine Company. Very simply, all Champagnes are sparkling wines but not all sparkling wines are Champagnes.

Many people associate Champagne (or its sparkling wine alternative) with being dry. Epicurious.com lists the following flavor designations:

Brut: Very dry to almost dry (less than 1.5 percent sugar). It’s the most common type of Champagne (or sparkling wine).

Extra-Dry or Extra-Sec: Slightly sweeter than brut with 1.2 (even drier than brut) to 2 percent sugar.

Sec: Medium sweet (1.7 to 3.5 percent sugar).

Demi-Sec: Sweet (3.3 to 5 percent sugar) and considered a dessert wine.

Doux: Over 5 percent sugar and very sweet as a dessert wine.

 

Whether you enjoy a glass of sparkling wine or Champagne on New Year’s Eve, raise that glass to a great 2014!