Sparkling wines today are in a league of their own. Yet, it is impossible to trace back in time who made the first bubbly. The presence of fizz in wine has been observed throughout the history and documented by writers in Ancient Greece & Rome. Back then, effervescence was considered a wine fault, rather than a desirable trait. This was also the case with wines from the Champagne wine region, which showed slight effervescence.
In the early 1600s, a wine called Vin Gris emerged in France. As it got shipped, the wine underwent an accidental secondary fermentation. Then, when it arrived at its destination, the wine was bottled, retaining some of the sparkle. Vin Gris was introduced to England by a French courtier M. de Saint-Evremond and found success in no time.
Wines & Explosions
Back in France, sparkling wines were causing a lot of damage. During autumn, as the temperatures dropped, fermentation would stop, irrespective of whether sugar remained in the wine or not. Post winter, in spring, when temperatures increased, dormant yeasts would get activated again and resume fermentation. The pressure in the bottle caused due to the production of carbon dioxide would lead to the bottle bursting, which in turn would cause a chain reaction. Nearby bottles would also explode due to the shock. Not only did wine cellars lose 20-90% produce due to exploding bottles, the explosions were a hazard to the people who were around. No wonder, effervescence was seen as serious trouble back then.
Two monks, Dom Pérignon and his follower Jean Oudart, were passionate about wine. Dom was assigned the job of getting rid of this problem. Essentially, his work revolved around preventing secondary fermentation. Dom established several rules for winemaking. He also advocated the production of wine from Pinot Noir grapes, which is a red variety. This is since white grapes were prone to re-entering fermentation.
Decoding the reasons
It was not until 1662 that the process was well understood. Christopher Merret, an English scientist, presented a paper in which he detailed that residual sugar in wines caused a secondary fermentation. He also mentioned that the deliberate addition of sugar could lead to any still wine becoming sparkling.
Today, modern winemaking has solved any hazards associated with the production of sparkling wine. And now you know, the hundreds of years of history that every bottle of bubbly contains!