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Ever since its first sparkle, Champagne has been the preferred choice for celebrations of all kinds. Royal, political, national, fashionable, sporting – whatever the occasion, it has to be Champagne.
By the late 17th Century, Champagne makers were winning control of the process of effervescence, and the monks had lost their traditional hold on production. Champagne now became the wine of choice for festive occasions.
Its mischievous lightness struck exactly the right chord with the free-thinking pleasure seekers of the 18th century. Dinner-party guests at the Palais Royal just loved the way the cork came ‘jumping out of the bottle'!
Madame de Pompadour ordered Champagne by the gallon for her parties alfresco – her expenditure on bubbly says it all: at least 1,800 bottles of Champagne were consumed in the course of one masked ball at the Hôtel de Ville in 1739.
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.
Today, at the dawn of the 21st Century, Champagne is how we celebrate life’s finest moments. The Bicentennial celebrations of the French Revolution; the opening ceremony of the FIFA World Cup 98; the Cannes film festival; family birthdays, Christmas, New Year – no celebration is complete without bubbly.
Ship christenings once had ritual and religious significance. The Vikings, for instance, christened their ships with human blood to ward off the evil eye. In the Middle Ages, religious ceremonies were used to mark the completion of new ships.
Wine has long been part of this tradition. The smashing of the bottle is a wetting, and christening, of the hull so the ship is ready to go to sea, bringing good luck to the vessel and all who sail in it.
For many years, Champagne has been the ‘christening fluid’ of choice – that explosion of mousse as the bottle crashes against the ship’s bow will be a familiar image for most people.
Despite the apparent exuberance, however, nothing is left to chance in this ceremony. The bottle is attached to the ship by a rope, and to the christener by a strong ribbon. It is also weighted with lead to prevent it from bouncing back and make sure that it smashes on impact.