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 Filed as : Featured WinemakersWine TypesWinemakersSparkling

Projectile Corks

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  • Publish Date: Dec 29, 2009

Rather than the celebratory quaff it is now, Champagne started out as a problem.

Although the monks of Pierry and Epernay (credited with the “invention” of Champagne) were skilled winemakers for their time, what would become Champagne as we know it was initially a major embarrassment. In the early 1660s, a pale rosé from Champagne known as “vin gris” was introduced into England, already a market for Champagne’s still red wines. Vin gris was typically drunk soon after the vintage in France. But when shipped abroad in cask and bottled upon arrival at their destination, the wines developed a sparkle as the yeasts awoke and resumed fermentation. They became wildly popular with the British upper class, but the monks had no clue what was going on with the bubbles.

In true French fashion, they embraced commercial opportunity, but there was no predicting which wines would effervesce. Exploding bottles could decimate half a cellar’s contents or more.

Despite endless efforts to find a means of controlling the sparkle, it was not until 1836 that a pharmacist from Chalons-sur-Marne developed a method of measuring the residual sugar in wine on which the yeasts fed. This allowed precise calculation of how much sugar must be added to the wine to produce a specific volume of carbon dioxide and resultant atmospheric pressure in the bottle. For the first time, Champagne was no longer hazardous duty, but it took another half century for the technique to become widespread.

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