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Fact/Fiction: Was champagne invented by the English?

Old news, truthfully retold. This week we ask if Pierre Emmanuel Taittinger, head of the esteemed Taittinger champagne house, was right to claim that the Brits were behind the first bottle of bubbly

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How it was told.

As Westminster politicians continue to struggle to uncork the Brexit bottle, some may well have champagne on ice ahead of the March 29 EU withdrawal date.

But it was claimed in January that the roots of the luxury tipple don’t lie in the eponymous province in the north-east of France but, in fact, a glass should be raised to Britain for its creation.

The stories come from the head of the esteemed Taittinger champagne house Pierre Emmanuel Taittinger, which told France’s Le Figaro that an English error was to blame.

He said: “They created champagne because of a mistake. Benedictine monks were supplying them with still wines from champagne, red and white wine.

“The English left these cheap, still white wines on the docks in London and the wines got cold so they started undergoing a second fermentation. Like all great mistakes, it led to a great invention.”

It fizzed up plenty of interest in the British press.

The Daily Telegraph reported the story in “Head of French Taittinger Champagne house says the ‘crazy’ English invented the fizzy wine” while The Times opted for “Champagne? England invented it by mistake”.

As for the Daily Express, its story went under the headline: “The English CREATED Champagne by ‘ACCIDENT’, luxury French wine house admits”.

Taittinger’s comments also reached the Mail Online with the succinct header of “Did the ENGLISH invent champagne? Boss of iconic French bubbly firm Taittinger claims luxury fizz was created ‘by mistake’ when flat wines were left outside at cold London docks”.

But is champers really as British as fish and chips or a fry-up?

Facts. Checked.

Without wanting to sound like we’re bottling it, there are a quite a few theories to how champagne as we know it came to be.

One popular French view is that Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon was first to have supped a glass at Hautvillers Abbey in 1697 after trying to rid the abbey’s wine of bubbles. Failing in that task, he drank his creation and allegedly announced: “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars.” But this theory is now thought to be a myth that stems from a 19th-century marketing campaign. An article by Benoit Musset, a University of Maine history lecturer, confirms that sparkling wines already existed by that point but were not as popular as today.

English physician Christopher Merrett penned a report for the Royal Society in London discussing how to make wines sparkle back in December 1662. There is also record of English Restoration dramatist Sir George Etherege mentioning champagne in his comedy The Man of Mode in 1676.

Champagne Fact/Fiction 1344
Champagne-FactFiction-Worth-repeating

But Musset concludes: “A timeline based on documentary evidence clearly shows that champagne is the first ever sparkling wine to have been made on a regular basis by producers in a specific region. And that region is Champagne.”

And as the Comité Champagne, the French government-backed governing body, say in their tagline: “Champagne only comes from Champagne, France”.

That sentiment has seen the drink pour into the Brexit debate. Like Arbroath smokies, Cornish pasties, parmesan and Bavarian beer, the EU offers geographical protection to products made in a specific region.

The regulations will not be enforceable in Britain after our EU exit, unless a new deal remedies it. This will, in theory, open the door for British products not originating in specific regions to carry the area’s name.

As a result, the UK market will be able to compete on these shores with the genuine European products but will suffer when exporting back to the EU unless they foot the bill to change their branding back.

And, ironically enough, it wouldn’t work the other way. The EU still protects non-EU products in their region so UK companies would not see any European competitors pinch their names post-Brexit.

Image: Miles Cole

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