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San Clemente Journal

Holiday Effervescence

Nov 30, 2006 09:53PM ● Published by Don Kindred

by Anne Batty

Champagne. The word speaks of celebration. Add a bit-o’-the bubbly to any holiday gathering and it becomes a special affair. It is a beverage like no other, and none other is so associated with joy and festivity.

But it hasn’t always been that way.

Before the mid-1600s Champagne was just a region in northern Europe. There was no such thing as the sparkling wine we drink today. Monasteries in this region (with the economic assistance of the European crowns) were responsible for making only those wines held in high esteem by the nobility of Europe, and today’s popular, effervescent beverage was originally considered an undesirable end product in this process … the sign of poor wine making.
Dom Perignon is often given credit for founding this treasured imbibement, but according to historians this is untrue. As a Benedictine monk, Pierre Perignon was the appointed treasurer at the Abby of Hautvillers in the Champagne region, and among his duties was the management of its cellars and wine making. As cellar master he actually spent a great deal of time trying to develop ways to prevent the wines fermented there from bubbling.
This unstable, “mad wine”- as Perignon first called it - was in actuality the result of nature. The bubbles in the wine were a natural process arising from Champagne’s cold climate and short growing season. Grapes picked late in the year didn’t leave enough time for the yeast on the grape skins to convert the sugar in the pressed grape juice into alcohol before the cold winter temperatures put a temporary stop to the fermentation process. With spring’s warmer temperatures the fermentation process continued, but by then the juice had already been bottled. This refermentation produced carbon dioxide, which, now trapped in the bottles, created the sparkling.
By the 18th century due to Perignon’s 47 years of controlling, blending and improving this unruly wine, it soon became the lubricant of preference at the aristocratic gatherings of the English and French Royalty. From that time to the present champagne’s uniqueness and quality has made it the beverage of choice for many holidays and special occasions.

Toasting Trivia

Before the mid-1600s Champagne was just a region in northern Europe. There was no such thing as the sparkling wine we drink today. Monasteries in this region (with the economic assistance of the European crowns) were responsible for making only those wines held in high esteem by the nobility of Europe, and today’s popular, effervescent beverage was originally considered an undesirable end product in this process … the sign of poor wine making.
Dom Perignon is often given credit for founding this treasured imbibement, but according to historians this is untrue. As a Benedictine monk, Pierre Perignon was the appointed treasurer at the Abby of Hautvillers in the Champagne region, and among his duties was the management of its cellars and wine making. As cellar master he actually spent a great deal of time trying to develop ways to prevent the wines fermented there from bubbling.
This unstable, “mad wine”- as Perignon first called it - was in actuality the result of nature. The bubbles in the wine were a natural process arising from Champagne’s cold climate and short growing season. Grapes picked late in the year didn’t leave enough time for the yeast on the grape skins to convert the sugar in the pressed grape juice into alcohol before the cold winter temperatures put a temporary stop to the fermentation process. With spring’s warmer temperatures the fermentation process continued, but by then the juice had already been bottled. This refermentation produced carbon dioxide, which, now trapped in the bottles, created the sparkling.
By the 18th century due to Perignon’s 47 years of controlling, blending and improving this unruly wine, it soon became the lubricant of preference at the aristocratic gatherings of the English and French Royalty. From that time to the present champagne’s uniqueness and quality has made it the beverage of choice for many holidays and special occasions.

Champagne Truths

• Serve in long-stemmed flutes or tulip shaped glasses designed to enhance the flow of bubbles to the crown and concentrate the aromas of the wine.
• Never chill or ice the glass. It takes away from the enjoyment of the wine.
• Wine served in crystal’s rougher texture encourages the formation of more 
bubbles.
• Serve cold. Refrigerate three to four hours or place in bucket half water, half ice for 20 to 30 minutes. Never place bottle in freezer.
• The cork should not pop. “The ear’s gain is the palate’s loss.” Popping wastes 
bubbles.
• Pour an inch in the glass. Wait for froth to settle, then top off.
• If properly closed, expensive champagne can be placed in a refrigerator for several days, good for another “bubbling up.


Raising a Glass

Throughout North America at the stroke of midnight on January 1st, friends and family embrace, champagne flows and Auld Lang Syne is sung. Whatever the custom, most people feel the same sentiment. With a New Year, we can expect a new life with wishes of good luck and promises to do better in the following year. Although the ways of celebrating differ according to customs and religions, people around the world join us in celebrating the New Year in their own way. 
People in Moslem societies, celebrate the New Year by wearing new clothes. 
Southeast Asians release birds and turtles to assure themselves good luck in the twelve months ahead. 
• Jewish people consider the day holy, and hold a religious ceremony at a meal with special foods. 
• Hindus of India leave shrines next to their beds, so they can see beautiful objects at the start of the New Year. 
• Japanese sound gongs 108 times for the 108 sins a person can commit. It is believed listening to gongs cleanses one’s heart and erases past sins.
• In Spain for each gong of the clock at midnight, people pop a grape into their mouths. Twelve grapes symbolize good luck for each month of the New Year.
• The Chinese New Year is celebrated on February 1st with fireworks to scare off evil spirits, parades and a Festival of Lanterns – thousands of lanterns light the way to the New Year.
• Danes “smash in” the New Year at midnight when young people bang on friends’ doors.
• Greek children leave their shoes by the fireplace in anticipation of receiving gifts. As the festival of St. Basil, gifts are exchanged on this day rather than at Christmas.
• In Ireland, for good luck, people go in the front door and out the back door. 

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