On the 4th August 1693, legend says that French Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon invented champagne. Apparently he shouted, “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars,” and began the world’s love for sparkling wine.

Unfortunately both of these claims are untrue. Firstly, there is no evidence that Pérignon ever claimed to be drinking the stars, and the earliest reference to the phrase is in a champagne advertisement from the 1880s – nearly 200 years later. Secondly – and most importantly – Dom Pérignon did not invent champagne. In fact he dedicated much of his time as cellar master at the Benedictine abbey in Hautvillers to researching how to avoid making sparkling wine.

Sparkling wine was a problem for Dom Pérignon because the build-up of carbon dioxide from a secondary fermentation inside the bottle could cause it to explode without warning. In a cellar, the proximity of the exploding bottle to other bottles could set off a devastating chain-reaction and led to sparkling wine becoming known as le vin du diable or “the devil’s wine”. However, developments in English glassmaking in the 17th century created bottles could withstand the additional pressure and records – including a paper presented to the Royal Society in 1662 – suggest that it was the English scientist Christopher Merret who first developed the process to make sparkling wines through secondary fermentation.

However, Pérignon did make a significant contribution to the development of champagne as we know it today. In particular, he mastered the technique that allows winemakers to produce white wines from red grapes – something that is an important part of the champagne process.

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© Scott Allsop