One day in the late 17th century, goes the legend, a French monk named Pierre called out to his colleagues: ‘Brothers, I am drinking stars!’ The French for ‘monk’ is Dom. Pierre’s surname was Perignon. He had invented champagne, and the world had changed forever.
Which explains the appear-ance, over 300 years later, of Champagne: A Global History by Becky Sue Epstein (Reaktion Books, £9.99). The Perignon tale is in there, along with many more lively and engaging stories from the history of sparkling wine (which, Epstein assures us, goes back much further than those three short centuries). We learn that the term ‘Champagne Charlie’ originated with Charles Heidsieck, that the fountain at Laurent-Perrier HQ is engraved with the motto ‘Never Drink Water’, and that 11 million bubbles escape from a single glass.
James Bond favours Bollinger (surely the only thing he shares in common with Patsy from Ab Fab), while American rap stars go for Louis Roederer Cristal, or at least did until a company spokesman bemoaned the fact and Jay-Z switched to Armand de Brignac in a huff. Claudia Schiffer followed Marie Antoinette’s lead in allowing a glass design to be modelled on her breast, while the British showed their true colours at the 1851 Great Exhibition by trying to make champagne from rhubarb.
This short volume, wittily illustrated and beautifully designed, is a pleasure both to look at and to consume. Which, given the subject matter, seems fitting.