New Year’s Eve is the ideal occasion to savor Champagne. Whether it’s because of the intriguing, elegant bubble or the urge to raise a glass at the stroke of midnight, it is unquestionably the drink of celebrations. It has a long history and an extensive list of contributors along the way, Dom Pierre Perignon undeniably the most famous. But a few other discoveries had to come before Perignon could supposedly declare, “Brothers, brothers, come quickly, I am drinking stars.”
Two of the most important developments occurred around the same time – stronger glass for the bottle and an airtight cork for the closure.
Before the 17th century, wine was stored in casks and individuals took their own fragile bottles to local wine merchants to be filled. An oil-soaked rag acted as the cork.
Glass was made using wood-fired furnaces, and out of fear that there would not be enough oak for shipbuilding, King James I (at the urging of Sir Robert Mansell, an admiral of English Royal Navy) ordered glass-makers to stop using wood for heating the furnaces. The wood was replaced by coal, which allowed the furnaces to burn hotter, creating stronger glass for wine bottles. The stronger bottles contained the fizzy wine and didn’t explode as weaker glass did.
Around the same time,cork was discovered and replaced the oil-soaked rag. The English were the first to seal wine bottles using cork imported from Portugal and Spain. Most cork comes from the bark of the Quercus suber or cork oak, a species of oak native to southwestern Europe and northwestern Africa.
Once there was strong enough glass to withstand the pressure of the bubbly and a cork to contain the bubble, voila, the industry was on its way to what we think of as modern-day Champagne.
So whether you are chanting the midnight countdown on New Year’s Eve or quietly celebrating with intimate friends, bubbly is perfect for toasting the beginning of a new year.
- NV Gruet Brut Sparkling Wine, New Mexico (about $19 retail)
- NV Rosa di Bianco Sparkling Wine, Spain (about $14 retail)
- NV Roederer Anderson Valley Brut Sparkling Wine, California (about $19 retail)
- NV Iron Horse Brut Classic Sparkling Wine, California (about $39 retail)
- NV J Brut Rose Sparkling Wine, California (about $37 retail)
- NV Moet Chandon Imperial Champagne, France (about $50 retail)
- NV Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Champagne, France (about $62 retail)