Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wine’ing Wednesday: The Legend of Dom Perignon

Apologies for the late in day Wine’ing Wednesday Post. Between Culinary School Graduation and getting ready to leave the day job there has been many reasons to celebrate! Whether it’s an educational achievement, successful first date or surviving a long day at the office, I can’t think of a time when glass (or bottle) of Champagne, Proseco, Cava, or Spumante doesn’t make things a just a little more fun! So next time you pop a cork remember to raise a glass to my favorite monk Dom Pierre Perignon.

The legend of Dom Perignon

The legend of Dom Perignon will forever be tied to the legend of the bubbles in champagne. Close to Reims cathedral in the Hautvilliers Abbey, a near-blind Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Perignon was given the job of being its chief treasurer and cellar master. When he first took over in 1688, the wine being produced by the abbey was adequate but pale. Perignon feared that the deep red wine from the neighboring region of "Bourgogne" (Burgundy), was gaining favor with the King . The lighter red of the wine produced in Champagne was becoming a problem but was unavoidable due to the cooler climate of the region.

In this northern region of France the grapes had to be harvested early and the wine barrels became too cold during winter months. Unfortunately, even though it had not reached peak fermentation, the pinkish juice had to be bottled. After all, there was a royal demand for the product, and it was up to the monks at the abbey to deliver. But while the chilly winter had temporarily halted the fermentation process, the warmer spring climate "reawakened" the fermentation after the wine had been bottled. The result, of course, was bubbles!

Because Perignon and his abbey brothers were frustrated by the presence of the "bulles" (French for "bubbles"), they began altering the wine's chemistry by blending several types of grapes and removing the skins. What resulted was the art of blending, and the first white wine ever produced! Yet, unfortunately, this new elegant pale wine persisted in fermenting after it was bottled!

The bubbles were considered by the monks to be a serious defect in the wine, and the cause of production disasters: bottles were exploding all over the cellars! Nevertheless, Dom Perignon did not give up; and legend says that when he tasted the new lighter bubbly wine he was pleasantly surprised, and exclaimed "Come quickly, brothers! I'm tasting stars!" If the elegant bubbly could just be bottled without exploding, the monks could introduce a truly exciting new wine. Dom Perignon began by changing the shape of the bottle and using heavier glass. The stronger bottle eliminated the explosion problem, but now the effervescence of the bubbly wine persisted in blowing out the hemp and oil stoppers. Perignon turned to Spain for stoppers made of cork, and Voilà . . . the cork did it! The king's court was delighted with this new effervescent pale colored wine. The abbey's reputation was saved!