Photo: Toni Blay / Flickr
Raising a glass of Champagne while surrounded by friends and relatives is an age-old tradition around the holidays.The celebratory tradition dates back to when the Romans planted grapes in the northeast section of France around the fifth century.
In 987, when Hugh Capet was crowned King of France, he displayed the local wine at coronation banquets, impressing visiting monarchs.
Today, bubbly is as popular as ever; Champagne sales were up 15 per cent during the first nine months of 2011, and even more is expected to sell this holiday season.
The grapes used to make Champagne come exclusively from the Champagne region of France. It's highlighted here in red.
The Champagne-making community developed a comprehensive set of rules and regulations for all wine produced in the region to protect its economy.
Champagne gained its fame from its association with French kings. Champagne was King Louis XIV's drink of choice. This made Burgundy, a province to the south, jealous because their red wine was not preferred by the king. The feud lasted 130 years, almost resulting in civil war on multiple occasions.
The three main types of grapes used to make Champagne are Pinot noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier.
During the fermentation process, carbon dioxide is released and in the early days would cause the bottles to explode. The wine that did survive the process had bubbles, which was at first seen as a flaw to the Champenois.
The French preferred more pale and still Champagne, but the British soon started to develop a liking for the bubbly version.
Depending on how sweet or dry you want your Champagne, you can move along the scale in ascending sweetness order: Extra Brut, Brut (the most common variation), Extra Dry, Dry, Demi-Sec and Doux.
Dom Pérignon (the person) had extremely high standards and precise techniques for his brand of Champagne. He used only Pinot Noir grapes from vines that he wouldn't allow to grow past three feet, and they could only be pruned in the morning when it was very cool. A bottle of Dom Pérignon sells for $100 to $200.
Champagne is sold in many sizes. The magnum (1.5 litres, the bottle farthest to the left in the photo) was believed to be the best because there is less oxygen in the bottle. The larger bottles are all named for biblical characters.
Today, the region of Champagne consists of 86,500 acres and produces more than 200 million bottles each year.
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