By the late 17th Century, as Champagne makers gradually came to grips with the process of effervescence, the monks lost their traditional hold on production and Champagne became the wine of choice for festive occasions.
Its mischievous lightness struck exactly the right chord with the free-thinking libertines of the 18th century. The ladies of the time, wrote the Regent’s wife, just loved the way the cork came jumping out of the bottle!
Champagne flowed like water at the French Court – whether dining-in at the Palais-Royal or eating al fresco with Madame de Pompadour (whose expenditure on Champagne says it all).
At least 1,800 bottles of Champagne were consumed in the course of the masked ball held in the Hôtel de Ville in 1739. Casanova would have approved: he said in his memoirs that Champagne was essential to pursue his sexual conquests.
By the early 19th century, the Champagne Houses were busy creating new outlets for Champagne – braving the perils of land and sea to woo the American and Russian markets … In Europe, the first to be bitten by the Champagne bug were the English. Champagne became a favourite at the English court under the Regency, considered a ‘must’ by arbiters of fashion Beau Brummell and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Alexander I of Russia was so keen on Champagne that in September 1815 he organised a four-day Champagne banquet for 300 guests. The occasion was a grand military parade at Vertus (Champagne) and the chef was celebrated French cook Marie-Antoine Carême.
Within just a few years, Champagne had made an entrance on the coast of California and in New York. By the early 20th century it was all set to take the world by storm. Champagne became the last word in chic entertaining: partying in style meant partying with Champagne.
The late 19th century saw major developments in transportation, especially the rail system, which catered to the growing demand for Champagne. Bubbly, or ‘Champ’ as it was known in the fashionable Paris watering-holes on the Grands Boulevards, was now the drink of the moment. They drank it at the Café Anglais and they drank it at the Tour d’Argent. They drank it at the Jockey Club and they drank it at the Taverne Olympia. They refused to drink anything else.
From the 1870s onwards, coinciding with the end of the Franco-Prussian war, Champagne became increasingly democratised. French playwright Feydeau and the composer Offenbach both mention Champagne in their works. So too does Strauss, in his operetta ‘Die Fledermaus’ (‘the curse of human dryness/is banished by his highness/Champagne the first’). Likewise Verdi in La Traviata (Alfredo and Violetta raise a glass to Champagne in the first act). As the Roaring Twenties spread to Europe, the jet setters of the time were game for anything – on condition that it included Champagne. Orders flowed in from Paris, Deauville and Biarritz; from Monte-Carlo, for the children’s hospital charity party ‘Le bal des Petits Lits Blancs’ (ball of tiny white beds); from French dandy and playboy Boni de Castellane, for the soirées in his pink marble extravaganza on the Avenue des Bois; from Princesse Murat for her fashionable parties; and from the countess de Clermont-Tonnerre, whose ‘Persian Balls’ would go down in history – over-the-top decor, hundreds of lavishly disguised guests and, to top it all, real elephants and horses and real fountains flowing with Champagne!
In May 1945, Champagne was of course the only choice to celebrate when General Eisenhower obtained Germany’s unconditional surrender??? at his HQ in Reims. And what a celebration it was! Since the early 20th Century, Champagne wines have grown to be the mark of success. No wine symbolizes the pleasures of conviviality better than sparkling Champagne.
Champagne is the wine people turn to for celebration, regardless of their race, religion or creed. Champagne flowed at the Shah of Iran’s Persepolis celebrations in 1971 to commemorate 2500 years of Iranian monarchy; at the Bicentennial celebrations of the French Revolution; at the inaugural FIFA World Cup 98 celebrations.
Champagne is also a major sponsor of film festivals and other cultural and sporting events. Champagne is how we celebrate life’s finest moments. Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, New Year’s Eve – whatever the celebration, it has to be Champagne.
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