by Fred McMillin
for December 31, 1998


New Year's Eve...Monks, Corks & Bubbles


Dom Perignon, a 17th century French monk is widely credited with inventing champagne...including developing an efficient champagne cork [inspired by visiting Spanish monks with cork stoppers in their water bottles].

...Ann Walker in Bayfood

1718, Reims, Champagne District—A peer of the monk says more than 20 years have passed since Dom Perignon created Champagne, which the people have "frantically adored." This would have placed the invention a little before 1698.

...Henry Vizetelly's 1882 History of Champagne

Countess Magairet
Near Dom Perignon's Abby,
which still stands, Countess Magairet tells Mrs. McMillin,
how the black-robed monk
created sparkling wine, or did he?

The Rest of the Story

So Spanish and French monks are responsible for an essential element of the champagne story... the use of the cork to retain the bubbles in the sparkling wine. Tonight we should pause and toast that event of about 1695.

But wait! Listen to this. None other than the great author Andre Simon tells us, "Strange as it may seem, Champagne was first bottled, sold and drunk as a sparkling wine during the 1660's in London. The reason for this is obvious: They had corks from Spain in London and they had none then in the landlocked province of Champagne."

From a 1676 English play, The Man of The Mode:

    'To the Mall and the park
    Where we love till tis' dark,
    Then sparkling Champaign (sic)
    Puts an end to their reign.'

Clearly, wine was bubbling in London before it was in Reims. Ergo, perhaps we should toast some unknown, creative English wine merchant.

However, there's no controversy about Spain's role in supplying the corks to both regions, so tonight I'm hoisting a California bubbly with Spanish roots, Gloria Ferrer.

The Wine

1990 Royal Cuvee
Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves
Grapes—Carneros Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (30%)
Aging - Six years on the yeast. Spell that toasty and nutty.
Price - $20 range


Given the importance of Spain in our story, the name "Royal Cuvee" is particularly germane. The sparkler was named in honor of the visit to Northern California in 1987 of the Spanish King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia some three centuries after their country's corks stoppered the world's first sparklers. (Portuguese corks will be granted equal time later!)

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.



WineDay Annex

More articles by
Fred McMillin


Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.


Anthony Dias Blue's
Tasting Notes


A Bargain Is Born

From Bordeaux to Bombshells

From the Land
of the Kiwi

Winery of the Week 12/25/98
Merry, Merry Christmas

Wilcox & Lane,
It's Not a Law Firm

How To Mend A Blend

The Sangiovese Problem

Portico Will
Stop the Show

Winery of the Week 12/18/98
Fleur Du Cap
is on the Map

Your Complete Petite

Grenache Panache

Drake's Day

The Birth of a Wine

Winery of the Week 12/11/98
The Durell Spell

Barbera Bounces Back

Pedroncelli Power

A High-Tech Malbec

'Tis the Season to Be Bubbly

Winery of the Week 12/04/98
Prohibition's Setting Sun

Botrytis Bliss

Hernan Cortes

Mumm's the Word

Current WineDay

January WineDays
February WineDays
March WineDays
April WineDays
May WineDays

June WineDays
Summer Break
September WineDays
October WineDays
November WineDays

1997 WineDays



Copyright © 1998—the electronic Gourmet Guide, Inc. All rights reserved.