During the nineteenth century wine merchants, vine growers and men of science paved the way for champagne’s prosperous future by producing a good quality wine and making it available at an increasingly reasonable price all over the world. The number of people drinking champagne increased as the aristocracy was joined by the middle classes; the privileged youth and the artistic and literary crowd continued, as in the eighteenth century, to be the most enthusiastic sector of the market. The intrinsic qualities of champagne were appreciated by wine lovers and particularly by gourmets, and there was certainly no shortage of these, but, in most people’s eyes, in France and in foreign countries, champagne was related to social standing, and drinking it was a way of showing that one belonged to a certain world. This aspect of what might today be called a social phenomenon was a considerable factor in the expansion of the champagne market. Its success was confirmed not only by the reception that it was given, of which numerous accounts follow, but also by the growth in its production which was astounding, in terms of both size and speed.
The start of the nineteenth century was not however without its problems. Wars destabilized the markets that were in the process of being created and Napoleon’s administration imposed heavy taxes. The Emperor himself was not a champagne lover, preferring Chambertin and the wines of Bordeaux . Although this did not stop him from appreciating champagne in some of the dishes that were prepared for him. Carême revealed on this subject, in his Historical and Culinary Notice on the Manner of Napoleon’s life on Saint Helena, that amongst the dishes that had flavours that the Emperor liked were chicken fricassés, sometimes with the wine of Champagne (which was very expensive on the island, costing twenty four francs a bottle) (82). However, the fact was that outside of ceremonial meals and even when he was at the height of his imperial glory, Napoleon would barely spend half an hour at the table, sometimes only fifteen minutes, and he did not drink much.
This was not true for the soldiers of the Directoire, the Consulate and the Empire. During the Egyptian campaign they sang:
The Nile does not flow with champagne !
Who wants to go on a campaign
In a land with no cabarets?
General Junot, governor of Paris, and later the Duke of Abrantès and governor general of Portugal, was well known for his love of champagne. His wife, a very active woman of letters, recounts on this subject the following dialogue, between the General and Regnault de Saint Jean-d’Angély, who was public prosecutor for the Imperial High Court and held in high esteem by Napoleon. Junot said to Regnault: ‘To your health, with your wine of Champagne; that’s quite outstanding, where do you buy it?’ –‘At Ruinart’. –‘Yes, very good, I buy mine there too’. – ‘Ah! You find it good!’ said Regnault, becoming more friendly, ‘I’ll join you in a glass’. – ‘On the condition’, said Junot, ‘that you say, “Vive l’Empereur!’” – ‘What sort of a condition is that!’ exclaims Regnault, ‘yes, of course’; and, raising his glass, cried in a voice that could be heard in a gale, ‘to the Emperor’s health!’ The Duchess of Abrantès added, of Regnault, He drank three or four more glasses of the wine of Champagne, ate some pâté de foie gras, and was soon full of gaiety, but without becoming tipsy or even slightly affected. Junot, for his part, was a serious drinker. He had been a colonel-general in the hussars, these light horsemen who are as ruthless with women’s hearts as they are with the glass… gay, charming, and as happy to live as they are ready to die. For the most famous of them, General Lasalle, a superb officer and excellent man, of outstanding spirit and courage, and very talented, any occasion was suitable for drinking champagne, both with his officers and with his mistresses.
We saw at the end of the eighteenth century, despite a slight but definite decline, that champagne still had a substantial following and was very much appreciated, even during the Revolution. When the Directoire began these loyal followers were joined by those skilful at benefiting from troubled times, and turning a profit from war. The luxury in which these parvenus indulged was unrestrained. Dinners, suppers, and balls multiplied, as did the salons, such as that of Madame Tallien, which became a high temple of gallantry. In a reaction against the terrors of the Revolution, people returned to the comfortable ways of the Regency. The Duchess of Abrantès offered the following explanation, Restrained for so long and held by an iron hand that prevented us from even raising our voices, we emerged from this captivity with an appetite for pleasure and entertainment that became a kind of frenzy, such was the behaviour of even the most sensible people (1). And we can be quite sure that champagne was very much part of all these wild celebrations. But it also became the wine of gourmets, for under the Directoire, fine food became all the rage… in the streets, the press, the clubs, the games rooms (19), and all the more so under the Empire. Moreover, we read that while having dinner is the most important action of each day, the one which one awaits with the most pleasure, eagerness and appetite (270), lunch also had become an important meal.
Champagne was drunk as an accompaniment to lunches and dinners, sometimes from start to finish, but more usually only during the latter part of the meal. It was considered a vin d’entremets, an entremets being at that time a dish that was served between the roast and the dessert. Served at this stage it could be drunk through to the end of the meal. A work written in 1805 calls for champagne with dessert, specifying that it is sparkling champagne that is required.
Gastronomes were for the most part full of praise for champagne. The minutes of the Dîners des Gourmands, from the 20 September 1806, reports two bottles of sparkling white wine of Aï 1802, which on tasting merited the most honourable mention in terms of gustative qualities, and profound consumption by the stomachs of connoisseurs.
Ladies, as was the case in the eighteenth century, and is still the case now, were particularly drawn to the charms of champagne. They liked to open the bottles, or at least to fill the flutes. Grimod de la Reynière, a faithful observer, wrote that ordinarily this wine is served, if not by the gracious host, then by Ladies, who like to make it foam by pouring it from a great height. It is probably on this account that champagne became fashionable at al fresco dinners, during the course of which it would give spirit to the most timid and passion to the most indifferent.
Under the Empire, just as during the reign of Louis XV, poets, and particularly singers, were much involved in celebrating the glory of champagne.
Desaugiers and Béranger gave it a place of honour in their songs. The former was the author of the famous Panpan Bachique. He also wrote, in Ronde de table:
Champagne, your flattering name / Is far more attractive, I’d say / On a restaurant menu / Than on a map of France.
As for Béranger, champagne enlivens half a dozen of his songs, including Voyage au Pays de Cocagne (Voyage to the Land of Plenty ) (42) in which he praises the beneficial effect that it has on him:
Drunk with champagne / My mind does wander / And soon I come / To that glorious land.
Champagne was appreciated abroad as it was in France. Countries with which war was imminent or likely would order huge quantities, despite the inevitable problems of transport. On the 6 Germinal of year XII, Pierre Failly wrote the following, There are currently immense consignments of sparkling wine being sent to Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Russia and all the northern countries. Contraband shipments continued to England in spite of difficulties due to the war, as we shall see in the last part of this chapter. The quantities transported may have been less than during peacetime but were enough to maintain the taste for champagne on the other side of the Channel. Again in Pierre Failly’s account we find him writing on the 19 Brumaire of year X that the English are the best gourmets in Europe, as was proven by the types and quality of the champagne that they ordered from him. As for Germany, Goethe, the great man of letters, was a lover of champagne, which abounds in his Wilhelm Meister that appeared in the eighteenth century. In his first Faust, published in 1808, Brender, one of the joyous drinkers of the Auerbachs Keller in Leipzig, says, I would like some of the wine of Champagne, and let it be good and sparkling.
Exports to Russia virtually stopped between 1805 and 1807 because it had joined the third and fourth coalitions against France. They began again after the Treaty of Tilsit, to such an extent that in 1810 Monsieur Bohne wrote to Madame Clicquot, I have been informed that the Empress is pregnant. What a blessing it will be for us if she has the good fortune to give birth to a Prince! Rivers of Champagne’s wine will be drunk in this immense country. Do not speak of this at home, or all our competitors will flock to the North. However in 1812 Tsar Alexander 1st became the leader of the sixth coalition. Russia’s murderous campaign was to sound the death knell of the Empire; champagne nonetheless had an occasional role to play.
Here is the account of Countess Potocka, who witnessed the events, concerning the return to Prince Poniatowski of the eagles of Napoleon’s Polish soldiers when they reached Warsaw in December 1812 during the terrible retreat: The soldiers did not lose sight of these insignia for a moment; when others thought only of saving their lives their priority remained the honour of their regiment. These men had no warm clothes and no shoes! We salute them with champagne; they bear their leader’s health with enthusiasm, and seem only surprised that we should celebrate them in this way; they think that they have done nothing more but their duty.
And so it was that the war struck directly at Champagne, where Napoléon wrote with the names of Champagne the last pages of his epic poem, Arcis-sur-Aube, Châlons, Rheims, Champaubert, Sézanne, Vertus, Méry, La Fère, Montmirail. Each battle a triumph (302), but they were but victories for a day, with no decisive effect on the unstoppable advance of the coalition. This was in February and March of 1814. Captain Coignet wrote in his Notebooks, On the 13 March we arrived at nightfall at the gates of Rheims; the Russian army has occupied the city, and are entrenched with fortifications made with manure and well-filled barrels. Napoleon arrived at Rheims in person that same day and scattered the Allies; for three days he was the guest of Jean-Baptiste Ponsardin, Madame Clicquot’s brother. He then moved on to Epernay on the 17 March and stayed, as we have already recounted, with Jean-Rémy Moët; by then he was on his way to Paris where he abdicated on the 6 April. Rheims and Epernay were taken and retaken several times during the French campaign. Rheims was not treated too harshly by its Russian occupants, on account of the leniency of Prince Wolkonski. But the Prussians laid waste to Epernay on the 7 February, which they then lost, retook on the twelfth, and then lost again; the Russians then occupied it on the 17 March, the same day that Napoleon passed through, and pillaged for two days. Without the skill and determination of its mayor, Jean-Rémy Moët, Epernay would have been completely destroyed.
From the first occupation of Epernay, the Prussians stole, raped and, like the Cossacks in Rheims, emptied the storerooms and raided any cellars that had not been bricked up in time. With a far-sightedness that was a credit to their sense of business the larger merchants did not become over-alarmed, judging that the end result would be that a great many foreigners would become familiar with champagne and return later as customers. Mme Clicquot exclaimed, So let them drink! If they drink, they will pay (653), and the journalist Lallemand, in the Illustration of 23 August 1862 quotes Jean-Rémy Moët in a similar vein, Being robbed in this way brings a smile to my face, for all those who drink my wine will become travelling salesmen and, when they return to their distant homelands, will spread the name of my house. Lallemand adds, The allied officers emptied Monsieur Moët’s cellars of several hundred thousand bottles; but Monsieur Moët had established a European clientele without putting a single salesman on the road.
The Congress of Vienna, which took place between November 1814 and June 1815, also did a great deal in terms of publicity for champagne. One hundred and forty three representatives and the sizeable delegations that accompanied them, representing the elite of Europe, drank champagne at the numerous festivities, for, as the Prince of Ligne said, the congress does not just walk, it dances.
The memoires of the Comte de Lagarde-Chambonas on this matter are well worth reading. He writes that he went to take his place amongst twenty guests to complete the joyous evening… in the sparkling gaiety of the wine of Champagne, and he adds that he had supper in the company of the two Princes of Bavaria, that the neighbouring tables were those of Count Potocki and Prince Esterhazy, and that together they had drunk to each other’s health, witty remarks had abounded: their spirits had sparkled like the wine of Champagne. And so it was that the Russians, French, Polish, English, Swiss, Rhenish, Austrians, Bavarians, Dutch, Swedish, Piedmontese, Sicilians, Danish, Saxons, Norwegians, and others, often with conflicting interests, engaging in difficult political negotiations on which the future of the European nations depended, were able to unite on one matter: their enjoyment of champagne.
Talleyrand kept an open and sumptuous table. Whilst is true that he was more of a gambler than a drinker he was enough of a gourmet to appreciate fine wine, and, if we are to believe Victor Fiévet, he once described champagne as a civilizing wine, at a dinner with Monsieur Moët when the latter was visiting him at his town-house in Paris. A fine compliment coming from the mouth of the Prince of Bénévent, who was a master of diplomacy despite his often appalling cynicism, and who excelled in social affairs.
In 1815 during the Hundred Day period that separated Napoleon’s return from his final abdication, the fighting did not directly affect Champagne. There was however to be a second allied occupation, a limited one, but one which involved the passing through of troops, and the cellars were pillaged as in 1814. A witness to the departure from Châlons of the Bavarian army for Montmirail in July 1815 wrote that the inhabitants had afterwards gone to the army’s camp and could see that the soldiers had found the way to Monsieur Jacquesson’s cellars, the plain was littered with champagne bottles that the soldiers had not known how to open and so had broken off at the neck.
There was general complaining amongst the inhabitants of Champagne, but more about the disappearance of champagne than the demands of the soldiers that they were supposed to be accommodating. The mood can be judged from the following verses from a Chanson Champenoise:
Oh you drinkers of Moscow
When will you leave!
Will you carry on drinking
’Til our wine is no more?
It is, we believe, the only thing
That keeps you amongst us;
But, not to displease you, do let us say,
We drink it quite well without you.
Before leaving France the Tsar wanted to make a display of power with a huge military parade. In this he had the agreement of Louis XVIII, who was reinstated on the 8 July 1815 to the throne on which he had first sat on 3 May 1814 for the first Restoration, only to leave it rather suddenly on 19 March 1815. The aim of this exercise was to impress the Allies, for Alexander Ist did not approve of their wish to divide up France. He therefore invited the coalition sovereigns to a grand review, a peaceful military demonstration, designed to give a warning to Europe and to flatter the pride of the Russian campaign army.
The parade was planned to be held on the edge of wine-producing Champagne and the region’s barren or "verminous" area; the celebrities were to gather on the chalky plain below Mount Aimé. There were to be 200,000 men, to which had to be added the guests and the servants. It is impossible to imagine the immensity of the organiser’s task, who had to feed and maintain the multitude of people assembled at Vertus and the neighbouring localities. The region was bled dry as far as Epernay, Châlons, and even Rheims. Requisitions were crushing; they were applied not only to goods but also to people, three hundred of which were required to level the platform for the viewing station and to build a balustrade. Fifty generals and their retinues were lodged in Avize. The Tsar, the King of Prussia, the Emperor of Austria, the Royal Prince of Bavaria and the Duke of Wellington were installed in Vertus, along with a substantial crowd from Paris, among whom there were many English. Alexander’s table, open from the 8 to 12 September, seated up to three hundred people, who were served in the Russian style; the cuisine was entrusted to the illustrious Carême, the head-chef of the Tsar’s house, who had to overcome innumerable difficulties in order to keep his reputation intact. The region itself had no resources, he wrote in the Le Maître d’Hôtel Français, and continued, the provisions available were insufficient; we were also obliged to bring all of our equipment from the capital. Moët supplied 1900 bottles of champagne at three francs and 300 of superior quality at four francs.
The ceremony took place on 10 September 1815. It began at dawn with various troop manoeuvres on the plain. The sovereigns and the general and field officers then descended on horseback from Mount Aimé to inspect the troops. It would have been an impressive spectacle; history has rarely known such a concentration of troops presented to so eminent an audience in a location of such grandeur. The event had major after effects. It added further to the burden of the already severely tested inhabitants of Champagne, but also without doubt contributed to the growth in France and Europe of the demand for champagne, which, under the Restoration, was to become considerable.
In November of 1818 the allied occupation troops liberated French territory95. On the death of Louis XVIII in 1824 Charles X came to the throne of France, to be removed in 1830 by the Trois Glorieuses, the three days of the July Revolution, and replaced by Louis-Philippe Ist.
V’vre l’Aï ! vive la liberté ! (Long live the town of Ay, long live Liberty!) wrote Lurine and Bouvier, with the following explanation of what had come to pass in the Tuileries, A courageous worker, a hero of the Three Days, climbed without hesitating onto Charles X’s seat, decorated with fleur-de-lis, and began to play the king and swill champagne. This was the ultimate triumph of democracy; it also marked the arrival of champagne as a wine of the people (374). An appealing story, but one which does not alas figure in any of the historical accounts of the July Revolution. Perhaps one should give more credit to Eugène Briffault who wrote the following in Les Français Peints par Eux-mêmes (The French Painted by Themselves), In July 1830 one of the demonstrators cracked open a bottle of champagne in the doorway of a wine merchant, in front of the Louvre, under the fire of Swiss soldiers; he drank it with some of his comrades and then hurled himself into the attack.
Calm returned to Champagne and Madame Clicquot’s son-in-law could write in his tale, Les Cinq Layettes (Five Layettes):
The happy land that is Champagne!
Exquisite wines perfume the mountain,
The people are good, the husbands scarce jealous,
And the fair sex with hearts as gentle
As the sheep grazing in the hills.
France returned to work and the commercial success of champagne continued, despite the various obstacles placed in its path, the last convulsions of the Empire proving to be no more than a temporary interruption. Gourmets, who had of course never forsaken it, celebrated champagne, starting with the most illustrious of them all, Brillat-Savarin, who wrote in an historic fresco, Alas, those invincible crusading knights were never offered sparkling champagne by a dark-eyed slave girl. They were all reduced to drinking barley beer or green wine. Oh how I pity you!
Gourmet dinners and suppers multiplied, and generally involved men. Champagne was the customary toast. It rose to the ceiling in fountains, and everyone would go home in a happy frame of mind. These meals took place in the restaurants for which Paris was becoming famous and in their counterparts in the provinces. The cuisine was refined, and it became customary to include dishes on the menu that were prepared with champagne, starting with soups such as, Turtle in the Parisian style, or Fish from the Seine in the French Style, the preparation of which would involve, a half-bottle of good champagne (82). These establishments also welcomed society and the demimonde to banquets at which champagne and young girls danced and which could take place in cabinets particuliers (private rooms) which became fashionable and where the king of wines was at home. Raisson wrote in 1829 in his “Gourmet Code”, On these fine occasions, beware, except in the event of an express request, of placing any wine on the table other than champagne! It is a wine for ladies, but above all for lovers. It heightens gaiety and lends vivacity to the spirits; it even excites tenderness.
Private rooms sometimes harboured a lorette (a woman of easy virtue), accompanied by her "Arthur", who was drawn by Gavarni in his series Masks and Faces, and who was a fortunate being, in every sense of the word. Alhoy wrote that after supper he opened seven bottles of champagne in order to carry out what he named the love waltz and he recounts the story of a twenty-four year old Arthur who baptised lorettes with floods of champagne and who calculated that in six months the five thousand bottles of champagne that he had used in these ceremonial purifications had cost him 25,000 francs. Lorettes were so partial to champagne that immeasurable quantities of the wine of Aï were consumed in the streets of Bréda, Neuve-Saint-Georges and Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, from dawn until dusk and from dusk until dawn. In this amorous neighbourhood which gurgled, glugged and cooed, Cupid had neither arrows nor a quiver; all that he carried was a glass !
The actresses of the Paris theatres were mad about champagne, provided that it did not cost them anything... in money, that is! The Opéra extras in particular liked to spend whole nights over the dregs of a bottle of champagne: they were known as cellar girls. This craze for champagne extended to the young poets and impecunious artists of romantic Bohemia. Even though it was a barely affordable luxury they would drink it with their friends, in a restaurant if fortune had recently smiled on them, but more often in their garrets. In Mademoiselle Mimi Pinson, Alfred de Musset wrote, With the biscuit appeared, in all its glory, the single bottle of champagne that was to serve as the dessert.
Here we can observe an interesting phenomenon: the champagne is appreciated for itself, for the pleasure that it gave to a young society that was not concerned with making appearances in public. It can also be observed in Murger’s Scènes de la Vie de Bohème, (Scenes from Bohemian Life). When Musette decides to settle down by marrying a postmaster, she tells him, Dear sir, before giving you my hand I want to drink my last glass of of champagne. With this Murger repairs the treason of which he was guilty towards champagne when he described it as a coco épileptique (an odd kind of epileptic) according to Thimothée Trimm’s account in his Physiologie du Vin de Champagne.
The numerous cartoonists of the period such as Gavarni, Daumier, and Edouard de Beaumont, could not evoke the pleasures of life in Paris, with its balls and country outings, without scattering flutes and bottles of champagne amongst their works. In Le Diable à Paris, Gavarni shows two grape carriers 100 and a champagne flute, under the heading, After the grape carrier, the end of the world! And when champagne did not appear in the picture it would be in the caption, such as the one under a drawing by Edouard de Beaumont showing an adolescent asleep on the banquette in a ballroom, Here’s a cheeky young fellow who went down at the ball like lead shot in a glass of champagne!
The fact remains that while champagne was the wine of gourmets, and that of late night revellers, it was also served at the tables of polite society. It was fairly rarely served at lunchtime101 but to do so was not unheard of, if we are to believe Prosper Mérimée who, describing a young gentlemen’s lunch in his short story Le Vase Etrusque (The Etruscan Vase), wrote: We have just uncorked another bottle of champagne, I will leave the reader to establish how many that makes. Champagne was mostly drunk at dinner, and had become a fixture at the end of the meal, this delicious wine which is no less celebrated for being the last to arrive on the table, wrote Verdot, adding that: a cellar without champagne is like a watch without hands (637). Of course there was no rule against drinking it earlier in the meal and A.B. de Périgord wrote in the Nouvel Almanach des Gourmands that the roast always makes its entry escorted by a deputation of the wines of Bordeaux, the elite of Burgundy even the sparkling wine of Champagne. But it was always on champagne that one counted, at the end of the meal with a dessert or cake, to generate a lively atmosphere, for it is with the explosion of the first champagne cork that the songs begin (119). It was the custom to let the cork fly out of the bottle. The Almanach des Gourmands of 1804 notes: Before the sparkling Aï had popped the cork which was holding it captive. And the Code Gourmand writes of the cork from the Aï hitting the ceiling.
However as it could be an unpredictable operation in unpractised hands, that could spray the table and the guests, a cannelle was sold, which was a small device that is inserted in the cork and which, equipped with a tap, enables the sparkling of Champagne to be poured from one end of the table to the other. André Jullien, who invented it, wrote that the wine spurts out with enough force to reach a glass two or three metres away, and even further if the champagne is highly sparkling. He adds this surprising advice: If the wine does not come out with enough force, close the tap and shake the bottle, in order to provoke the expansion of the gas. He also mentions Lebrun’s Siphon, which served equally well to draw off champagne in order to drink it as to preserve it in an open bottle; finally, there was Deleuze’s Vide-Bouteille Champenois (Champagne Bottle Emptier), with a rocking piston similar to that on bottles of Seltz mineral water.
Nevertheless, corks continued to fly across tables, where Balzac’s illustrious and Rabelaisian Gaudissart struck the champagne glasses loudly with his knife (29), and at political banquets, or in inflamed toasts from around 1831, but above all at the reformist banquets of 1847, champagne served to denounce the July Monarchy and to toast the return to the Republic. In his book, Mes Mémoires du Passé, Alexandre Dumas recounts how at a republican banquet for the Harvests of Burgundy, things went fairly smoothly during the first two thirds of the dinner, but as the bottles of the wine of Champagne began to pop, reminiscent of gunfire, spirits rose... and gradually, in between the official toasts other, distinctly illicit, toasts began to be slipped in. The corks also popped at the debtors’ prison in Clichy which, wrote Lurine and Bouvier, is the house where the most wine of Aï and Epernay is drunk; so that now instead of going to Clichy, one is said to go to Champagne!, which is backed up by a drawing of Traviès, the Barrière de Clichy, champagne being drunk on this occasion on leaving the prison .
Corks were still popping, to general merriment, at the family celebrations of the bourgeoisie, for which champagne had become an essential ingredient. Here is how, in 1827, Antoine Caillot described the annual gathering at his grandparents: Soon after the little glasses were passed around, filled with this sparkling wine from the slopes of Aï which, by increasing the gaiety of the guests, gave grandfather a degree of pleasure greater than any other he had experienced in the preceding twelve months. There is, once one has tasted this delightful drink, a natural urge to sing. Most of all the corks popped in Paris, but more and more champagne was drunk in the provinces, due to the increasing number of official banquets, and also in imitation of what was done in Paris. Thus Eugène Briffault in Les Français Peints par Eux-Mêmes (The French Painted by Themselves) speaks of a young gentleman of Perigord who pretended to know how to drink the wine of Champagne.
As far as glasses were concerned, the flute was still used to drink champagne, and continued to be throughout the nineteenth century. But they were as fragile as the virtue of a dancer at the Opéra, this being made worse by their being excessively elongated. In Val Saint-Lambert’s catalogue of Belgian crystal glassware in 1831, there is a long flute that becomes exceptionally narrow at the base, called the Impossible, perhaps because it was impossible to empty, or to clean. In the same catalogue, there are Verres à Vin de Champagne en Trompette which were flutes that opened out at the top like trumpets.
Buffet style entertainment became more widespread and the coupe, a new style of glass, became popular. Caterers could handle them more easily and waiters could circulate with less difficulty in crowds of guests. The coupe was adopted in England for the same reasons, and also, since flutes were used for various other drinks, because it was desirable to have a glass that was used solely for champagne. This was also good business for the glass makers, who could add an extra piece to their collections, in France and England. In Russia, the coupe, generously sized, was, according to the Marquis de Custine, well suited to the Russian thirst; attending an imperial celebration in Moscow the Marquis noted the gaiety, always heightened by the wine of Aï, which was flowing in torrents into wide coupes, more capable of satisfying the Muscovite intemperance than the old trumpet shaped glasses for drinking the wine of Champagne.
The coupe was none other than the mediaeval hanap, an ornate goblet that often had a lid, and which had never entirely disappeared, being used to serve fruit and cream desserts. Some wine glasses even had this shape in the seventeenth century and one can see, in museums with collections from this period, Spessart coupes and Catalan and Venetian glasses in exactly the same shape as modern champagne coupes, some of which, notably in the British Museum, are presented as wine glasses102. Vizetelly, who lived and wrote in the nineteenth century, puts the appearance of the champagne coupe at the beginning of the Victorian era in England and during the July Monarchy in France, which is to say around 1840 in both countries, which seems highly likely103. We can, however, note that it appeared in Val Saint-Lambert’s 1831 glassware catalogue and that in England it was in use a little before the arrival of Queen Victoria, being mentioned by Disraeli in 1832, who speaks of it as a novelty (21). While there is no doubt that the flute was more common, images from the period prove that the coupe was in use by the end of the first half of the nineteenth century. Examples can be found amongst the caricatures in Punch in the 1840s. And in the Charivari of the 12 October 1848 there is a lithograph entitled Toast porté à l’émancipation des femmes par des femmes déjà furieusement émancipées (Toast to the emancipation of women by some already furiously emancipated women) by Daumier in which there are four coupes and some bottles of champagne. The glasses of this period still had a very short stem, but this quickly became longer and under the Second Empire had reached the length of today’s coupe.
The fashion was to drink champagne frappé (iced), which was to say very cold, around two to four degrees Celsius above zero, and sometimes less. To chill a bottle to such temperatures it was placed in bucket filled with ice, without water, and sometimes was even plunged up to the start of the neck into a mixture of crushed ice and potassium nitrate, in which case it would become frozen around the edges. Restaurants would increase the price by a fifth if champagne was ordered frappé.
Under the re-established monarchy, as in Napoleon’s time, champagne inspired poets and song writers.
Desaugiers was still very much the bard, as can be seen from this extract from his famous Délire Bachique (157), of which the tune is that of Pomme de Reinette et Pomm’ d’Api:
By the Joyous sounds / Of our songs / Let us deafen / The town and countryside / And may, frothing / At our accent, / Gay champagne / Repeats as it spurts / When one is dead, it’s for a long time.
We have seen that Alfred de Musset mentions champagne, of which he was a devotee, and to which he often alluded, less in his poems than in his letters, and in particular in his letters to George Sand. The latter is supposed to have said: Champagne aide à l’émerveillement (Champagne helps to fill us with wonder). It may be doubted that she ever really pronounced these words, but the truth of them is undeniable.
As for Alfred de Vigny, champagne inspired his classic, La Bouteille à la Mer (The Bottle at Sea), the bottle in question, of which the green neck had yellowed, still carried the coat of arms of Champagne and the sparkling wine of Rheims . It includes the following verse, dear to the inhabitants of Champagne:
After excited cries, everyone dreamed in silence.
In the sparkling wine of Aï was a glimmer of happiness,
As deep in our glasses we saw France.
Champagne was less popular in the elegiac poetry of Lamartine who, with his own vines in Milly, was more drawn to the wines of Mâcon and Condrieu. He did, however, explain in a letter written in his youth the not unexpected result when champagne was used to appease the irritation of a so-called philosopher (336) :
With a bottle of his neighbour’s sparkling champagne.
His fresh face taking on a lively red colour,
He sang, he drank, he talked and then he drank some more.
Of the great romantic poets only Victor Hugo seemed to be unaware of the joys of champagne and Arsène Houssaye complained of having never having been able to persuade him to enliven the table with coupes of the wine of Champagne (300). Yet we find him indirectly involved in a story about champagne. Here it is, as told in 1893 by Raphaël Bonnedame, the director of the Vigneron champenois, who heard it from a friend connected with the administration of the post office.
During the reign of Louis-Philippe a large envelope arrived in Paris from Russia, addressed to: "The Greatest Poet in France, Paris." Who should they deliver the letter to? It was eventually agreed that it should be sent to Lamartine in the Rue de l’Université. When the postman handed the missive to the great poet the latter, reading the address, said, in a very straightforward manner, "My friend, you are mistaken this letter is not for me. Take it to Monsieur Victor Hugo". The following day Victor Hugo also refused it, saying: "This letter is for Monsieur de Lamartine, take it back". With the result that Monsieur Comte, then the director of the post office, decided to open the envelope. Here is what he found inside: "To the greatest poet in France, Monsieur Moët, the maker of the wine of Champagne, my humblest respects".
« Z* * *, Prince russe. »
Champagne figures in some fine passages in the literature of the period, especially in Balzac, who described in the La Peau de Chagrin (The Wild Ass’s Skin) the behaviour of men, whipped up by the piquant arrows of the wine of Champagne; Prosper Mérimée a fan of champagne, whose Le Vase Etrusque (The Etruscan Vase) has already been quoted, describes ones of his heroes, the husband of Julie de Chaverny in La Double Méprise (Double Misunderstanding) of 1833, as priding himself on drinking more wine of Champagne than an ordinary person. As for Scribe, along with other playwrights, he put champagne on the stage.
In his vaudeville comedy Madame de Sainte-Agnès, performed on the 20 February 1829 at the Gymnase-Dramatique theatre, we find Monsieur de Sainte-Agnès, the accountant at a health spa in the Pyrenees, inviting a friend who is passing through to lunch and specifying: Not here because of my wife; that could pose a problem because austerity and the wine of Champagne do not go well together. A little later, gaily returning from his lunch, he declares to Madame de Sainte-Agnès that if to drink a bottle of champagne is a crime then, it’s one that doesn’t last very long, particularly if several people are involved.
We see then that while champagne was now well known throughout France, it was still regarded, at least in the provinces, with some suspicion by those with high moral standards.
Abroad the success of champagne became confirmed at the same time as its country of origin enjoyed international prestige. In 1818 the Aix-la-Chapelle Congress admitted France to the European Alliance. It put Maréchal Bernadotte, a Frenchman, on the Swedish throne. Then in 1830 liberal ideas from France won over part of Europe and Belgium acquired its independence. France’s image began to regain its attraction in the minds of Europeans and Americans. The representatives of the ruling classes came to Paris to sample the delights of French civilisation, which of course included drinking champagne, and would develop tastes that they would take back to their own countries, as they had done in the seventeenth century. Carême understood this very well, and created or improved such dishes as Potage Anglais de Poisson à la Lady Morgan (English Fish Soup in the Style of Lady Morgan), Potage d’Esturgeon à la Pierre-le-Grand (Sturgeon Soup in the Style of Peter the Great), Potage Tortue à l’Américaine (American Style Turtle Soup), Potage de Poisson à la Vistule (Fish Soup in the Style of the Vistula), Sauce Italienne, and so on, champagne figuring in the recipes for all of these dishes (82). With a few rare exceptions, sovereigns, as had always been the case, continued to enjoy champagne, including Abdülmecit, the thirty-first sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Commander of the Faithful, who called it the maker of witticisms (650).
In Russia the peace finally enabled champagne to reach the tables of the aristocratic society of this immense country. Sales remained modest in the first half of the nineteenth century, but champagne very quickly gained popularity at all the imperial court’s festivities. It was also drunk by summer visitors to the beaches of the Black Sea, by people taking the waters at spas, and by the officers of the Russian army. Grouchnitzki was promoted to officer, we drank champagne, wrote Lermontov in a scene in A Hero of Our Time that took place at the spa resort in Piatigorsk. Pushkin’s The Pistol Shot, takes place in a garrison town where champagne flowed like water at the table of a retired military gentleman. In the steppes as well, in Eugene Onegin, again thanks to Pushkin,
- The draught whose blessings are agreed -
In frosted bottle, for the poet
Is brought to table at full speed.
In Germany in 1817 Doctor Loebenstein gave considerable space to the therapeutic usage of the sparkling wine of Champagne in his Treatise on the usage and Effects of Wines in the Treatment of Dangerous Diseases. And Friedrich Engels, co-author with Karl Marx of the Communist Party Manifesto, having enjoyed the wines of France while visiting Paris, declared that a few bottles suffice to transport you from the delirious joy of the Cancan to the staunch fervour of revolution and then finally, with a bottle of champagne into the most delightful Carnival mood in the world! Edgar Allan Poe, the American poet and short story writer, also travelled in France and had a character who thought he was a bottle of champagne in one of his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque.
As for the British, after 1815, their love for drinking champagne could continue on a less restricted basis. Thomas Walker rejoiced that a young generation of more lavish hosts would succeed that which had started during the war, when champagne was twice as expensive and was poured as parsimoniously as drops of blood (661). Champagne could be found everywhere in England. Carême, the chef of kings, was in charge of HRH the Prince Regent’s table in the Brighton pavilion. In 1817 the menu included Perches au vin de Champagne (Perch with Champagne), Aile de tortue braisée au vin de Champagne (Turtle Braised in Champagne), etc.; almost every day there was some sort of dish prepared with champagne. But it was into glasses that it was poured most liberally, at the increasing number of parties such as the festivities surrounding weddings. Thomas Walker gives the reason: No other wine produces a comparable effect in terms of delivering successful results. If a large quantity of champagne is readily given then the scales will always tip favourably. In short, when there is plenty of champagne nothing can go wrong.
The still wines of Champagne, previously highly prized and widely drunk in Great Britain, now only found favour with serious connoisseurs. Thomas Walker considered that they were undeniably greater wines than those which were made sparkling, which at that time was true for the best of them; but explains that sparkling champagne is much more likely to bring glamour and merriment to gatherings, and for this reason is preferred by almost everybody. He adds that even its appearance is stimulating, this usually occurring at the end of the meal, as in France.
English literature is as rich in champagne references as French. This is particularly true of Byron, who mentions champagne several times in his works, and of Thomas Moore who describes how while the sparkling juice of France filled the crystal coupes, each jet of light from the setting sun, mixing haphazardly with the diamonds in the wine, showed how one could learn to dance to rays of sunshine. In the Book of Snobs, which was serialized in Punch in 1846 and 1847, Thackeray remarks on the lack of gratitude of snobs that dine out, we sneer at your cookery, pooh-pooh your old hock and are incredulous about your four and sixpenny champagne. Tables were in any case well supplied, the champagne being excellent at Walter Scott’s in Abbotsford. As for Dickens, he thought it obvious that the best place for champagne was at balls, amongst the feathers, the lace, embroidery, ribbons, white satin shoes and eau de Cologne, for champagne is simply one of life’s elegant extras.
Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte was elected president of the French Republic on 10 December 1848 by an enormous majority. In 1850 he wished to consolidate his power, and looked for a means of reinforcing his relationship with the army; he did this with a propaganda campaign that took the form of a series of military parades at Versailles, more precisely at Satory, the parades were reported in the press and it was noted that each one was preceded by an abundant distribution of champagne to the troops. Prince Napoléon hoped to thus gain as much popularity with the army as his uncle had had, and to dispel the hostility of some of the officers who had served in Algeria. In this he was only partially successful and the initiative was not to everyone’s taste, but it did at least mean that champagne was in the news.
The opposition newspapers called it the La revue au champagne (The Champagne Parade). The Charivari of the 26 September 1850 reported that: The wine of Champagne is now intoxicating young soldiers with politics. Government is to be found at the bottom of a bottle, we will soon have a Champagne Cesar! The same publication on 27 October 1850, has General d’Hautpoul saying, in a supposed proclamation of his taking up his post as Governor of Algeria, We will have a Satory in the Mitidja. I shall arrive escorted by several boats loaded with crates of champagne.
The cartoonists leapt at the opportunity. In the Charivari of the 27 August 1850, a caricature by Vernier shows a non commissioned officer at a banquet, his champagne flute in hand, looking at the prince through a bottle of champagne and seeing Napoleon I. On the 12 and 16 October of the same year, there were two more drawings by the same cartoonist, one showing Louis-Napoléon in dress uniform, a bottle of champagne in his hand, serving the soldiers, and the other a drunken cavalryman with a bottle of champagne, saluted by the president who, inspecting the parade, exclaims on seeing him, "Honneur au courage malheureux !" (Honour to unfortunate courage").
Finally, the future Napoleon III became an excellent propagandist for champagne. In a drawing in the Charivari of the 20 January 1851, he is recognizable in a costume ball disguise and is approached by a dancing lady who says to him, Tell me my handsome mask, they say that you like people to drink your champagne... you wouldn’t have a bottle with you by any chance? They were very happy in Champagne, even it was only Vernier’s imagination, for it was thanks to him again, in the Charivari of the 10 December 1850, that a cartoon appeared showing the presentation to Prince Napoleon of a sword offered in the name of all the grateful merchants of the wine of Champagne.
The merchants had another thing to be pleased about: the region had become accessible by railroad. It was inaugurated in Epernay by the prince-president, and Fiévet wrote that the inhabitants of Epernay worked wonders for their reception of the President of the Republic; champagne flowed freely at the feet of Louis Bonaparte; Avize, Oger, Le Mesnil, Epernay, Ay, Mareuil, Dizy, Pierry and Hautvillers offered the illustrious visitor their finest sparkling wines (214). The line between Epernay and Rheims came into service on the 4 June 1854. The coronation town was thereby connected to Paris via Epernay, which no doubt fanned the rivalry that we know existed between the two metropolises of champagne. Be that as it may, by 1854 the entire wine producing area of Champagne was served by the railroad, and this made distribution considerably easier.
The French population, as a whole, were little affected by politics and rejoiced in the return of prosperity, this was particularly true in the world of business. Champagne was the drink of choice for Parisian parties, and for official occasions became the "official" drink. The Charivari carries reports of this in several of its1851 issues, and describes the deluges of champagne at the Elysée parties, where champagne was laid out in rows of 200 bottles. Sparkling champagne was also the favourite drink of the lions of the time, such as Roger de Beauvoir, who was said by Villemessant, the director of the Figaro, to have drunk enough in his lifetime to float a building away. As for the women of the Second Empire, they had certain similarities with those of the eighteenth century, with their petticoat dresses and carefree lifestyle, and, progressing from the loose ways of the Regency, to unlicensed frivolity and indulgence of the senses (26), found the perfect ally in champagne. The women of the palace, so charming under the brush of Winterhalter, would drink champagne at the balls at which they accompanied the imperial couple and where it was poured freely, and at charity events where it was offered at bars and buffets.
While the quadrille was danced at official celebrations, there was even more merriment in the exuberant life of the boulevard where the public dance halls and places of pleasure had never been so assiduously and frequently attended (590). The Vie Parisienne of the 23 May 1868 noted that chocolate, and the wines of Bordeaux and Champagne were served at balls, but that at the Bal de l’Opéra, and carnival balls, it was definitely champagne that was de rigueur. The débardeurs of the 1840s were still there, and would remain until the end of the Empire with their flutes and bottles of champagne. The caption of a Carnival Sketch by Vernier, in the Charivari of 21 January 1852, he says to his Pierrot: What! Are we only going to drink one bottle of champagne! But, Pierrot, you must be parched, usually I’m never offered less than three!" And in the same paper there is a débardeur thinking he is returning home but going to the wrong door, as the result of a natural and entirely French condition brought on by the wine of Champagne.
There was also a fashion for outdoor parties. There was much talk both before and after the party given in September 1869 by Arsène Houssaye. He says himself, in his Confessions, that it was a Fête à l’Agriculture to which seven or eight thousand guests were invited to the Château de la Folie-Riancourt-en-Breuil. The festivities had a rustic theme, with suckling pigs and wine served straight from the barrel, but concluded with a very Parisian custom, that was also popular in Champagne: AT NIGHTFALL / A great explosion as a thousand bottles of champagne are opened. / ILLUMINATIONS / Dances of Picardie and Champagne to the music of Olivier Métra. / FIREWORKS AT EIGHT O’CLOCK by Ruggierri, supplier of fireworks to the Emperor / Bengal lights, raining stars, bonfires. / COMÉDIE PARISIENNE. / AT MIDNIGHT guests return home by moonlight accompanied by the music of Offenbach. And Arsène Houssaye goes further: Yes, a full thousand bottles of the wine of Champagne which did not have the time to pop, because we guillotined all the corks.
Considerable quantities of champagne were also drunk at restaurants, at Frères Provençaux, which closed with the fall of the Second Empire after three-quarters of a century of existence, at the Bignon brothers, owners of the Café de Foy and the Café Riche, at Véry, Vachette and its neighbour Brébant, at Magny, at the Maison Dorée where the Duke of Hamilton-Douglas drank so much one evening that he died three days later of cerebral congestion (368), at Véfour, at Dumont and at Philippe, where people did not generally have supper, at the Café de Paris (which closed its doors in 1856) and at the Café Anglais where a great many people did have supper. There was also champagne in the rising houses, such as Maire, Foyot, La Tour d’Argent and, on the Champs-Elysées, at Ledoyen which was where, according to René Héron de Villefosse in one of the texts in Le Vin de Champagne, duels that had been held in the Bois de Bois were concluded over champagne.
A lot of champagne was also drunk in the clubs, at the Union, the Cercle Impérial, the Cercle Agricole, and above all at the Jockey-Club, founded in 1834, whose stoves were taken over by the famous Gouffé in 1867. One club that particularly merited the attention of lovers of fine food and wine was the Club des Grands Estomacs (The Large Stomachs Club) of which the members met at Philippe every Saturday at 6 pm, for an eighteen hour marathon of eating and drinking! Here, in the words of Delvau, is how the meetings would end: The third and final act of this monster "blow-out" runs from six in the morning to midday: an extremely peppery onion soup is served with a pile of savoury pastries, washed down with four bottles of champagne for each member (155).
There were places where people ate less but drank just as much champagne, these were the cabinets particuliers (private dining rooms), the fashion for which had increased rather than diminished since the July Monarchy.
They were popular in glamorous circles as places to meet for supper. Between three and four in the morning the ice buckets and bottles of champagne changed hands constantly amongst the waiters, as if they were putting a fire out (427). You sup at Hill’s when you are not really hungry and want to savour a few bottles of champagne and a few spicy young ladies (155). And it was the Café Anglais that provided the location of the sparkling couplets of La Vie Parisienne, in the fracas du champagne.
Suppers were also given in private houses. Xavier de Montépin describes Parisian viveurs in the Souper chez Albine: Maxime was poured some champagne for Albine, while Blandine refilled René’s glass and her own, all three seeing who could drink the most. René having fallen asleep, after abandoning himself to the double intoxication of pleasure and of champagne, one of the two friends, climbing on a chair and seizing her glass, still half full of champagne, let a few drops fall on René’s pretty head, and pronounced in a solemn tone and with a comic gesture: "René de Savenay, I baptise you viveur !".
In the Carte du Tendre, updated by Pierre Véron for the Charivari of the 23 February 1864, we read that at the foot of the truffle mountain flows the river of champagne, famous for its accidents for there is no counting the number of sensible people who have drowned there.
The grisettes and lorettes still consumed large quantities of champagne, that they called champ. A flask of "champ" is the only homage that a grisette values.
In French one said of these young ladies that elles ingurgitent le champagne, for if we are to believe Taxile Delord, in those happy days, the verb "ingurgiter" (to gulp) was used solely for champagne, whereas for all other wines one used "avaler" (to swallow) and not "ingurgiter". He further specifies that: This manner of absorbing liquids is entirely particular to our nation (Le Charivari, 8 February 1853). In Paris-Grisette, the Auteurs des Mémoires de Bilboquet take up the same idea, stating that a woman sirote (sipped), but that the grisette ingurgite (gulped) and that she shared this talent with the lorette. And it is true that Littré’s Dictionnaire de la Langue Française defined the verb ingurgiter in 1874 as to swallow in a greedy fashion.
Was this how champagne was drunk at the races? Perhaps, judging from the illustrations in the press of the period, in which flutes and champagne bottles can be seen invading the enclosure and the refreshment stalls at the racecourses in the Paris area, and even, in the Vie Parisienne of the 2 May 1868, under the title A Drop of Consolation, a horse drinking a bottle of champagne, which represents his dividend on the hundred thousand francs that he has just won his master. For pretty women the races were an occasion to see and be seen, and also to drink some champagne on the turf, to the health of the winners, horses and jockeys, and between races, La Vie Parisienne of the 25 April 1868 reports that one would run to the buffet to drink a glass of champagne and a quick sandwich. The same was true at the racecourses in the provinces, for as Gustave Claudin wrote in 1868, the mania for horse racing is spreading everywhere and threatens to invade the entire country (113).
Thus both the number of drinkers and the number of occasions on which champagne was drunk had multiplied. How was champagne drunk? The champagne coupe had become well-established, despite the opposition of connoisseurs and those who liked the way that champagne foams up so wonderfully quickly in flutes. The latter was still widely used. A magnificent cut glass flute stands out in the foreground of an illustration in 1869 by Detaille, Au buffet des Tuileries, and Barbey d’Aurevilly, in Les Diaboliques, writes a defence, as poetic as it is vehement, of this slender, svelte glass of our ancestors, the true champagne glass, that which we call a "flute", perhaps because of the heavenly melodies that it often pours into our heart!
The custom of drinking champagne frappé (very cold) was preserved, as was that of popping corks, except in restaurants, and champagne continued to be drunk at the end of the meal with the dessert. Following the frosts which damaged the Champagne vineyards, the following appeared in the Charivari of the 1 May 1852 : after the harvesting of the potatoes there is no other crop more precious in France than the grapes that make the wine of Champagne: dinners without wired bottles would not be dinners; gaiety only comes at dessert when the cork pops. And in 1867, Antony Réal wrote: Champagne is like the crowning piece in a firework display, it has to appear at the end of a gay meal like an exclamation mark after a witty remark (522).
There were however an increasing number of people who, following the example of the English, began to drink it with the first course, because they recognized that this stimulates the digestion and because its aroma sharpens the palate, conversation becoming, right from the start of the meal, more joyous and animated. This was still surprising for some, like the character in a short story by Paul Gérard that appeared in the Charivari of July 1865, who proudly says: And note that they served us the wine of Champagne throughout the meal. But in 1867, Alfred Delvau was categorical: champagne is not a wine, it is wine itself, it is only the bourgeois who drink it with dessert, on days of great celebration it should be drunk at the start of the meal. People lunching, dining or supping with champagne are not eccentric, they are considering their health as much as their pleasure, they are people of good taste who wish to look after their stomachs. And in1870 the Bréviaire du Gastronome (The Gastronome’s Bible) stipulates clearly that champagne is served at the same time as the roast...for it loses a lot of its qualities when consumed with sweet dishes, but that is not to say that this was only a gourmet practice, as is suggested by the Marquis de Foudras, when he wrote that, having met an inspector for the Registration department at an inn in Mézières, in order to present himself favourably, he ordered a bottle of Moët & Chandon with the second course. Nevertheless, for the great majority, champagne remained a dessert wine.
At the end of the Second Empire the ambigu, an eighteenth century practice, came back into fashion. This was a meal that had no fixed time and at which all the courses were served simultaneously, popular at the ends of balls, during hunts, etc., and champagne was the ideal drink to be served throughout such meals.
From Napoléon III’s time champagne figured frequently in literature. We have already seen an example in Barbey d’Aurevilly. Flaubert wrote in Madame Bovary: Iced wine of Champagne was served. Emma shivered all over as she felt the cold in her mouth. In their Journal, the Goncourt brothers noted: After beer, we would expound a theory on Hegel. After champagne, we would attack. For Taine, the sparkling liquor which trembles and laughs in the glass is the noble drink of the French. Mérimée specifies in the La Chambre Bleue that when in a garrison, the third hussar comes to relieve the eighth chasseur, the wine of Champagne is served at the officer’s table. But it is in the many works of Alexandre Dumas and Balzac that sparkling wine flows most freely, both writers, especially Alexandre Dumas, drank fair quantities themselves as a restorative after their mammoth labours.
Champagne also appeared more and more frequently in the press, not only in the reporting and articles but also, as we shall see later, in the illustrations. Newspaper articles offered both wonderful and mediocre writing: Arsène Houssaye wrote pleasingly of the topazes of the wine ofChampagne, and Monselet, a gourmet and serious poet, in an Ode to Intoxication, asks the latter what costume she will wear to seduce him, if she will have a white dress, narrow neck, heavy hips and, tempting champagne, a silver crown ? But a journalist for the Illustration is less fortunate when he compares champagne to a foamy nectar that cries, "liberty!" as it escapes!
Champagne was popular in pieces for the theatre, and was sometimes even drunk on stage. Labiche frequently included it in his works. In one of his comedies, Un Garçon de Chez Véry, Galimard, in a monologue, tells of the good fortune that has ended up being the cause of his unhappiness: One thing led to another and I invited her to dine at Véry! In private room n° 6, by candlelight, the champagne flowing, I lost my head, and then... In La Dame aux Camélias, Dumas the younger has Saint-Gaudens say, when supping at Marguerite Gautier’s: Passing by the Maison d’Or, I said let us bring oysters and a certain wine of Champagne that they only give to me. It’s magnificent! Champagne flows in the theatrical works of Meilhac and Halévy, and then there are the librettos that they wrote for comic opera, a sparkling reflection of a period of enrichment and entertainment, in which Offenbach put champagne in his scores when it was not in the text, the perfect synthesis occurs in the finale of the Vie Parisienne, with sparkling bottles. With Béranger and Gouffé’s poems, the praises of champagne were sung at café-concerts, at the same time as it was served to spectators seated at tables, an excellent innovation for the encouragement of its consumption.
Under the Second Empire artists were, as always, great drinkers of champagne. Recounting a dinner at the painter Clésinger, Arsène Houssaye wrote: Great artists are greedy; they begin by getting drunk on the fruits of the earth; but soon the gaiety of spirit runs over the table...Becoming eloquent, they become intoxicated with paradoxes rather than the wine of Champagne.
For cartoonists and caricaturists champagne was still a golden subject, along with hunting, bathing by the sea, boating, carnivals... and politics!
Edouard de Beaumont continued the series of his adorable young women at play. In the Charivari of the 2 July 1853, two of them, smoking cigars, are drifting down a river in a boat, alongside them floats a champagne bucket holding bottles and flutes. On the 28 August 1865, in the same publication, two other pretty young things are shown climbing into a boat, their arms loaded with bottles of champagne, with the caption: Young sailors, having heard the terrible story of the Medusa’s raft, make sure that they have plenty of supplies. And in his series Au Bal Masqué (At the Masked Ball), Edouard de Beaumont did not draw a table without then covering it with champagne bottles and flutes. Gavarni and Daumier still used champagne, and Champagne in their sketches for the Charivari, which showed, on the 6 August 1865, a Moët "grand mousseux"slips through the bottles’ entrance exam... spraying the examiner! This engraving of 1840 "The Champagne Exams" (16x45cm) can now be found at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, usa.
The cartoonists happily sketched the foreigners and provincial folk who flocked to the exhibitions of 1851 and 1867. They are shown, champagne glasses in their hands, at the refreshment stalls and stands of the champagne merchants; we also see them during their night time adventures, enjoying champagne at the capital’s cabarets, where many of their fellow citizens could be found, also thirsty for champagne. Paris was, wrote Alphonse Daudet, packed with foreigners, and not foreigners who are just passing through, exotic fortunes have settled here, requiring nothing but feasting and festivities.
More and more people were, however, able to savour the joys of champagne in their own countries, and by 1870 only a fifth of the total production was drunk in France. In Europe spa towns were fashionable meeting places for international society and, as in the eighteenth century, the consumption of champagne was as popular as the taking of the waters.
In Prussia, Bismarck set a good example. His biographer Paul Matter described a typical end to the day in the 1850s: He would drink a large quantity of iced champagne, return home, smoke, read the papers and then the third psalm, and then fall sound asleep. As at the Vienna Congress, a great deal of champagne was drunk at the Treaty of Frankfurt, where the Comte de Thun, the Austrian delegate and president of the assembly, shared his leisure time between dance, champagne and shameless flirtation with the pretty wives of the bankers. The press reported that Frederick-William IV, the king of Prussia, in a misunderstood burst of patriotism, became carried away to such an extent that he described the champagne that was offered to him at an official banquet as barbarous wine, and insisted that it was replaced with some wine from the Rhine. But in the last years of his reign he developed such a liking for champagne that he was nicknamed König Clicquot, King Clicquot.
Russia was still very keen on champagne. Charles Monselet wrote that at the Novo Troitskoï Traktir, the best restaurant in Moscow, the meal was washed down with iced champagne, the inevitable base of any Russian meal in good company. It was also drunk between meals. In War and Peace, Tolstoy describes a game of cards, during which a valet did not stop pouring champagne, one of the players, putting down his cards, took up a pipe and flute of champagne.
Champagne remained fashionable in the United States. In a letter written on the16 July 1863 to his son Paul, who was travelling in the United States, Joseph Krug rejoices in the good news that he has sent him concerning the success of the brand in New Orleans. Champagne quenched the thirst of gold prospectors in California, was de rigueur in the private dining rooms in New York and New Orleans, which were as popular as they were in Paris, and was also drunk at racecourses.
This close association between champagne and turf, already noted in France, and which could be observed in other civilized countries, was initiated by the English, and perhaps to be expected given that it was the English who were the first to put bubbles in the wine of Champagne and the first to put horses on racecourses. The practice of Champagne Stakes began in 1828, in Doncaster, the name coming from the obligation of the winning owner to provide the club with six dozen bottles of champagne, and was to multiply. Champagne became the drink of choice at the refreshment stands at the racecourses, and sometimes champagne lunches were held, becoming, in the 1860s, with the fire-eaters and blackface orchestras, an essential part of the Epsom Derby. Cartoonists of the period, such as John Leech in Punch, delighted in drawing multitudes of flutes and bottles of champagne, that one sees not only in drinkers’ hands but also on the roofs of cars. The scene was portrayed by Gustave Doré in 1876 in his beautiful woodcut entitled, At the Derby, Lunch in Style, which appeared in Louis Enault’s Londres.
Champagne had never been so popular in England! As we have noted, the illustrious entertainer George Leybourne sang Champagne Charlie with considerable success, and to the great advantage of the champagne merchants, and champagne appeared once again at the Derby in an equally popular song, Going to the Derby in a four- in-hand, in which lunch is accompanied by the best brand of champagne. In any case, despite certain austere attitudes of the Victorian era, champagne was still considered by British society as an essential aspect of society life. As Robert Smith Surtees wrote, there is nothing like champagne to give you the ideas of a gentleman. And at Eton the pupils had it sent to them regularly, with the school’s approval, who considered it a mark of distinction.
The success of champagne was thus universal in the first twenty years of the second half of the nineteenth century, during a period that was full of joie de vivre. But while Offenbach reigned, Napoléon III gambled his crown in the war that he declared on Prussia on the 15 July 1870 and lost on 4 September of the same year. Paris was besieged and at Voisin, for the Christmas dinner of 1870, the cat garnished with rats and a few animals from the zoological gardens were washed down with iced Bollinger.
The German occupation started out intending to be friendly. The Grand-Duc de Mecklembourg-Schwerin, commander of the 13e corps of the army, signed a public notice on 19 September 1870 in Rheims, according to which the troops have orders not to trouble in any way the harvesting of the grapes; the transport of wines, and of empty barrels, will not be stopped or hindered anywhere in the Champagne region, any unauthorized entry to the vineyards and any damage will be severely reprimanded, according to the rules of war. This leniency soon disappeared when the snipers of the French resistance began attacking enemy convoys and maintaining a rearguard action. Paul Chandon and several of his colleagues in the champagne trade were obliged to use trains which the Germans feared would be attacked by the resistance forces.
Mme Pommery stood up to the invaders and managed to preserve both her champagne house and her private residence. In a letter written on 12 April 1883 she tells the following often misquoted anecdote: Prince de Hohenloe was staying in my house and received all the grand Prussians, such as the Count Waldersee, on their way to Rheims. The latter expressed surprise at seeing me so calm, all alone in my house with my daughter, and I told him that so far I had had the good fortune to have received people of good upbringing, but that, should this change, I was capable of imposing respect, and I took out the revolver that I always kept in my pocket. Prince de Hohenloe was somewhat taken aback and reminded me of the notices in all the streets expressly forbidding the possession of arms. Count Waldersee, however, said to me, "Keep your revolver, Madame, for Prussians will not disarm ladies, it is rather the ladies who will disarm the Prussians.".
During a harsh occupation, which lasted nearly three years, the inhabitants of Champagne were, once again, subjected to requisitions, harassment, and arbitrary taxes levied by the Germans. Urbain and Jouron wrote in 1873: It is impossible to calculate the terrifying quantities of the wine of Champagne which were gluttonously consumed during the war and which are still being consumed by those who occupy our unfortunate region. And then there were La Fontaine’s verses:
Than see our wines of Champagne
Profaned by the Germans.
Due to quantities requisitioned by the occupying forces, and also to production problems107, total losses due to the 1870 war amounted to about 2,600,000 bottles, of which 1,880,000 were lost by Rheims and 450,000 by Epernay.
After the treaty of Frankfurt, which was signed on 10 May 1871, Champagne remained under German occupation for another two years. But public life in Paris, after a gloomy period during the war, quickly returned to normal. Despite the international crisis of 1873, which was to last twenty years, France rapidly regained its position as a major power, as was proved by the 1878 exhibition. The party recommenced, and the Duchesse d’Uzès was able to write, as early as 15 October 1871, that in Paris society life had joyously resumed, while the Eastern provinces were still oppressed.
When by 1896 prosperity had completely returned, there was general euphoria as money and luxury reigned, in a precursor of the Belle Epoque, and this was the case abroad as well as in France. Champagne was everywhere. whatever problems there were in the world of finance, all over the world, whatever the social scene, wrote Bertall, there is not a party, a celebration, a private or official function, a literary, commercial or diplomatic banquet, an Emperor’s or king’s feast that does not come to us asking for champagne to crown the festivities with its explosion of sparkling gaiety. This was a boom period for the champagne houses with turnover rising 42% between 1887 and the end of the century, the last five years alone accounting for a 35% rise.
From now on champagne could be said to have become an integral part of the way that people celebrated and enjoyed themselves. Drinking champagne was one of the first habits that the young lions of the privileged classes acquired. Vicomte Charles de Foucauld, a pupil in 1876 at the Special Military Academy in Saint-Cyr, future explorer and hermit of the Sahara, drank, when he still only an extravagant youth, the iced Mumm at the Café Anglais every Sunday which was reserved for aficionados (644). And it was with champagne that the young associate broker celebrated the end of bachelorhood; Charles Monselet recounted how the stupendous lunch included the great brands of champagne from beginning to end, oysters (15 dozen per person), caviar, ham, chops, wild boar, lobster, duckling, venison, pâtés and truffles, to cite only the main items.
Monselet was very pleased because, for him, champagne was the wine of bachelors. But we know that it was also the wine for ladies. The women of the demi-monde were as partial to champagne as ever, whatever their social ranking. They would drink it at home, amusingly calling it vin de ménage (everyday wine). They would have it offered to them in fashionable restaurants, of which the list had lengthened with the addition of several notable establishments such as Marguery and Durand, or in luxury hotel restaurants des palaces, such as the Ritz, which opened its doors in 1898.
High society and the demi-monde continued to attend racecourses and to drink champagne when attending the spring and autumn races, the Grand Prix, run for the first time in 1863, where Nana had a jumble of baskets of champagne brought for lunch, and races at Chantilly and elsewhere. In Lançon’s engraving of 1873, La Pelouse de Longchamps un Jour de Courses (The Lawn at Longchamps on a Race Day), champagne appears to be as popular as at the Epsom Derby. A humorist even suggested that champagne was used to fill the stomachs of jockeys who were under the required weight.
In both aristocratic and bourgeois society champagne was the traditional drink for wedding meals and also for receptions, which the Vie Parisienne of the 20 April 1881 said was a charming fashion that is beginning to become widespread and that iced champagne was to be found in profusion at such events.
Patriotic and political banquets were still just as numerous, and were an excellent occasion for drinking champagne. As an example from among thousands, in Cahors on the 28 May 1881 a patriotic dinner for 1200 people was held for Léon Gambetta, the president of the Chambre des Députés, with iced champagne with the dessert. However, the champagne served at these occasions was not always authentic; Nestor Roqueplan wrote that ever since these meals have started at which electors and hopefuls fraternize, we have made a brew of candied sugar, potash and elder pith, which, under the name of wine of Champagne, serves very well to fire up patriotic sentiment.
While champagne did not appear until the toasting stage at banquets, real champagne enthusiasts were still campaigning for it to be drunk from the start of the meal, especially now that dry champagne was available on the French market. In 1890 the Chansonnier du Vin de Champagne declared that, champagne can be drunk with anything. At a large dinner party it can be served throughout the meal... Your guests, especially the ladies, will not complain, you may be sure of it. It even became the official doctrine, as set out in the Notice Historique sur le Vin de Champagne, which was republished for the 1889 exhibition, and in Le Vin de Champagne, the brochure for the merchants’ syndicat of 1896. In the latter one finds the following: There is a prejudice that we are at a loss to overcome: usually, and particularly in France, the wine of Champagne is not served until the dessert; this is a gastronomic error. The nature of champagne is such that it does not accompany fruit and sweet dishes particularly well. It should be offered before dessert, only then can its finesse and delicate flavour be properly appreciated.
In reality champagne continued to be almost always served with dessert. Giving the order and progression of wines in general use in planning a grand meal, Bertall advised: For the end of the meal, one of the best brands of champagne, iced (48). There were even songs about it:
Crowned with silver in frosted bottles:
Bringing us the gaiety of its company,
Those sweet remarks and joyful refrains.
There was hardly anywhere other than in certain refined and upmarket circles that champagne was considered as a wine to be drunk with meals. In her famous manual of savoir-vivre, the hostess Baroness Staffe, who considered the clear, sparkling wine of Champagne characteristic of the national spirit: lucid, lively, penetrating and intuitive (457), simply wrote that in some houses the wine of Champagne is offered at the start of dinner, while an article in the Vie Parisienne of the 4 July 1885, on the wines that should be offered to a lady in a private dining room, advised champagne all through the meal for a menu d’extra (a luxury menu) but champagne with dessert for simpler menus and for...meals in the provinces!
One should, however, note that at the end of nineteenth century the older vintages began to be served with dessert at elaborate meals. In L’Art du Bien Manger (The Art of Eating Well), Edmond Richardin cites 1868s and 1870s being served in this way in 1890. There was also a trend for composing gala menus with dessert champagne, preceded by non-vintage champagne offered with other wines. Thus at a dinner at the Elysée Palace on 6 October 1896 in honour of the Russian tsar, Nicholas II, pink champagne was served with a Château Lagrange and a Sauternes.
On such occasions the champagne, like the great Bordeaux and Burgundies that it accompanied, was served in a decanter, which, as we have already noted, also was the practice at the court of Napoleon III. To put champagne in a decanter is, of course, a heresy! The whole point of the disgorgement process is to make subsequent decanting, with the resulting loss of pressure, unnecessary. Decanting also deprives the table of the elegant appearance of the champagne bottle. To make matters worse the decanters were chilled by filling them with ice cold water! For a banquet accompanied entirely by champagne, offered on the1 March 1895 to Edmond de Goncourt, the menu included: champagne in iced carafes. The merchants asked, through one of their intermediaries, that the practice of pouring the wine of Champagne into an iced water carafe be abandoned, for this inevitably weakens the wine, as a result of its being mixed with a certain quantity of water.
This detestable ritual was unfortunately not limited to banquets108. People did the same in their homes, buying decanters decorated with silver or porcelain labels, similar to those used for port and madeira, except with the inscription Champagne. True champagne lovers were outraged, Spire Blondel, for example, wrote that one cannot struggle enough against the deplorable custom of decanting champagne into iced carafes. But this practice persisted until just after the First World War, its popularity perhaps in part being due to the opportunity it provided to mask the quality of the champagne, and even the nature of the wine, if we are to believe Proust, who wrote in À l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs (In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower), that Bloch’s fault being stinginess, he would have an insignificant sparkling wine served in a carafe under the name of champagne.
Served in its bottle champagne was always ice cold, or at the very least well chilled.
Here is the method recommended by Viart’s Cuisinier National in order to frapper a bottle of champagne: Have a small copper plated, wooden or even earthenware bucket. Crush one and half kilos of ice; put half a handful in the bottom of the bucket. Remove the wire cage on the cork, and place the bottle in the middle of the bucket. Mix 250 grams of saltpetre with the ice and cover three quarters of the bottle with the mixture. After five minutes cut the string that is still holding in the cork; uncork the bottle and leave it for between an hour and an hour and a half.
The guide explains that in this way there is a thin layer of frozen champagne in contact with the glass, while the rest of the wine remains liquid; if one does not wish to separate the wine into these two elements then omit the saltpetre. The champagne will then be iced without being frozen.
Since champagne had to be drunk very cold, and there was not always time for the method described above, certain people adopted, albeit briefly, the reprehensible practice of putting a few ice cubes into the glass. The 1896 brochure of the Syndicat du Commerce des Vins de Champagne (which became the Syndicat de Grandes Marques, and then in 1994, the Union des Maisons de Champagne) explained that this custom, like that of pouring the wine of Champagne into a carafe iced with water, should be totally abandoned.
At the end of the nineteenth century there was competition between three types of champagne glass: flutes, coupes and goblets. Goblets had only a very brief success. Baroness Staffe does not give preference to either glass; she simply wrote that: the flute and the coupe of the wine of Champagne should not be forgotten. Bertalls’s engravings in 1878 show coupes and flutes in similar quantities, as do the posters at the end of the century for the various brands of champagne and the works of the contemporary Parisian artists.
The coupe was in fact the glass of the petite bourgeoisie (the lower middle classes) and above all that of banquets and buffets, due, as we have already noted, to its being easier and more practical to use than the flute. Serious champagne drinkers, however, shunned them; here is what Frédéric Laurendeau wrote on the matter in the Vigneron Champenois of the 21 April 1897: We also tried the coupe; but the champagne overflows as soon as it leaves the bottle, and the bubbles and foam quickly subside; this denies the wine a part of its prestige. The flute is to our wine of Champagne what a Worth dress is to a beautiful and elegant Parisian lady. High society was not to be misled and remained, with the gourmets, resolutely attached to the flute.
Men of letters warmed to the charms of champagne more than ever, and were as happy to put it in their glasses as they were to include it in their works; the references to champagne are too numerous to mention. It was most popular of all with poets, amongst whom were Barbey d’Aurevilly, Valery Larbaud, Sully Prudhomme, Rimbaud, Raoul Ponchon, and also with prose writers such as Adolphe Brisson, Dumas the younger, the Goncourt brothers, Zola, Alphonse Daudet and his son Léon, who drank a lot of champagne with Barrès and Mallarmé.
The playwrights were just as enthusiastic. Most of them included champagne in their works, notably Francis de Croisset in Chérubin, Alfred Capus in La Bourse ou La Vvie, Feydau in Chat-en-poche and Occupe-toi d’Amélie. Keeping habits formed under the Second Empire, Meilhac and Halévy break open the champagne in Le Réveillon (The New Year’s Eve Party) and La Petite Marquise with the participation of Offenbach, and in Die Fledermaus, with the sparkling music of Johan Strauss II.
Cabaret singers copied them such as Xanrof, who was made famous by Le Fiacre (The Hackney) and for whom champagne was wit put in bottles (457), and Xavier Privas, who sang the chevalier aux couleurs de France, aux cheveux blonds, au casque d’or, (the knight with French colours, yellow hair, and the golden helmet) but their verve did not match that of their Second Empire predecessors. Béranger was dead, alas! The appearance of champagne in the sketches in the Charivari was as rare in the 1870s as it had been common in the time of Napoleon III. A few flutes and bottles can be seen in the issue of the 26 April 1874, but without any mention of champagne. On the 2 June 1876 and the 9 October 1879 there were two drawings by Mars, Paris at the Races and At the Races in October, which include champagne, which was, as we know, inseparable from racecourse events; but that is all. What were the reasons for this eclipse? The effects of the crisis of 1873? A decrease in popularity due to poor quality pseudo-champagnes? One has to wait until 1884 for the reappearance in the Charivari of the style of champagne-inspired drawings that were so numerous in the 1860s. Irish terrorism was already a topic for the cartoonists; in a sketch by Paf that appeared on the 1 March 1885, an Englishman is seated at a table with a young woman and four bottles of champagne: So you are very fond of champagne, milord ? Ah ! No! It is to get me used to all the explosions when I go back to England. In the issue of the 1 August 1889 we even find our young boating beauties again, drawn by Henriot under the title Those Ladies on Holiday, setting off on the Seine with some bottles of champagne for the millionth edition of the embarkation for Cytherea. Champagne also blossomed again after 1884 in the humorous cartoons in the Journal Amusant, the Courrier Français, the Vie Parisienne, the Rire, and the Petit Journal pour Rire, where one finds amongst other things in issue 468 in 1884 a ship’s captain offering flutes of champagne to young women, one of whom asks him: Captain, what does one do on the high seas when there is no champagne left?
Champagne had become so fashionable abroad that at the end of the nineteenth century exports had reached 20 million bottles! In Germany there were still plenty of champagne lovers and they were joined by their compatriots who had been initiated into the delights of champagne during the war. But competition with native sparkling wines was stiff, and was supported by the monarchy. The sparkling wines were cheaper and so William II was inclined to protect them on the basis of boosting the economy and, of course, national pride. His biographer, Countess d’Eppinghoven, wrote that the royal table was never sumptuous and that at the court balls one had trouble procuring a sandwich and a glass of champagne. She recounts how the wife of the counsellor von Dietze, receiving the emperor according to the same principles, removed a bottle of champagne from her husband’s hands, that he had opened prematurely, saying: Here we have German sparkling wines to drink during the meal and the French wines only come at dessert.
Bismarck, however, continued to maintain his unconditional support of champagne, which he offered in profusion at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, under William I. His partiality for the wine of kings was to lead to conflict with William II.
Here is an anecdote that he recounts in his Souvenirs, collected by Eugène Wolff: Some champagne was poured for me at a dinner given by the Emperor. I could not see the brand because the bottle was wrapped in a napkin; but on tasting it I immediately recognized it as German champagne. I put my glass down and did not touch it again. "Are you not drinking, prince?" the Emperor asked me. - "No, Sire, I cannot bear German champagne." The Emperor, however, felt obliged to offer an explanation: "I have a large family to support, so I drink it first for reasons of economy, and also for reasons of State. I like to set a good example for our officers." - "Your Majesty", I replied, "my patriotism does not extend to my stomach". And we know that, in fact, the Prussian officers drank proper French champagne, because Vizetelly wrote that in Germany Deutz and Geldermann is the favourite in many an officers’ regimental mess.
The situation was not the same in Russia. There were national sparkling wines, and production was growing rapidly, but champagne was still top of the bill at the tsar’s court and the aristocracy drank it in enormous quantities, as did the army.
On this subject there is the story of the death of General Mikhaïl Skobeleff, the leader of the expedition that brought Turkistan to Russia, that is recounted by the Goncourts in their Journal: "Did you know", a Frenchman returning from Russia said to me, "how Skobeleff died?" - "No" - "Well then, here’s how! A bottle of champagne! A woman! A bottle of champagne! A woman! A bottle of champagne! A woman! On the third bottle followed by the third woman... it was too much...and he had a stroke!
Champagne began to be drunk in more modest circles, if we are to believe Chekhov’s story, entitled Champagne: A Wayfarer’s Story, in which the characters are the stationmaster of a little train station lost in the steppes and a bottle of champagne, which is without any doubt French, because Chekhov gives the brand as Veuve Clicquot. It could even be found in inns and taverns, as in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, in which one of the characters declares: I shall order some champagne, let us drink to my freedom." From 1892 the Franco-Russian alliance only served to encourage these trends, all the more so because it was in the department of the Marne that one of the military reconciliation exercises took place. Nicolas II, accompanied by the tsarina, visited the camp at Châlons in 1896, and then Bétheny in 1901, to watch the French army’s grandiose parades. And to celebrate the arrival of the Russian fleet a Champagne de la Marine Russe was launched. In Paris Russian aristocrats felt very much at home. They would spend their evenings drinking champagne in one establishment after another, in a night time circuit that became known as the Tournée des Grands-Ducs. It was this type of drinker that Meilhac and Halévy portrayed with the character of Yermontoff in their piece entitled Le Réveillon (The New Year’s Eve Party): Everywhere that he went the prince was in the habit of having a Hungarian orchestra follow him, which would play joyful airs while the prince and his guests drank champagne.
In Italy, despite their allegiance to asti spumante, champagne began to earn itself a place. The Vigneron Champenois of the 27 February 1884 affirmed that it was the only foreign wine that King Humbert I allowed at his table. In the United States champagne had not progressed as much as one might have hoped, for reasons that will be explained later. Belgium, however, had become its most faithful follower, after England. It was drunk as in France, but in much greater quantities. Francisque Sarcey recounts how, at a reception that was held for her after a lecture that she had given at Marchiennes, they declared that it was impossible to finish a supper without drinking a flute of champagne. A flute, my friends! These were veritable trombones, serpentine bugles of champagne that were filled around the table. And Leopold II, the king of the Belges and the Belles, was known for his love of champagne.
In Great Britain, during the last decade of the nineteenth century, or the Gay Nineties as they were known, there was an explosion of pleasurable activities in a prosperous country that had been repressed for almost all of the Victorian era. Patrick Forbes wrote that this was the golden age of champagne in Britain, ballerinas drank it from their dancing shoes, and connoisseurs wrote poems on their favourite vintages. For the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, champagne was almost an addiction. When hunting, or at the races, he was always followed by a valet carrying a basket of champagne. And as he would constantly call boy in order to be served, champagne was known in England for about fifty years as a bottle of the boy, or simply as the boy.
The Prince of Wales made frequent visits to Paris to find amusement, and to drink sizeable quantities of champagne in gallant company. Here is what Yvette Guilbert writes on the subject in her Memoirs: One evening in the Jardin de Paris, the evening of the Grand Prix, the Prince of Wales was watching the famous dancers La Goulue and La Môme Fromage. La Goulue recognized the prince, fixed him with a stare and, her leg in the air, buried him in the flying lace of her petticoats, crying: "Eh! Wales, you paying for the champagne?" The prince was madly amused and pleased to comply.
In imitation of the Prince of Wales there were lots of champagne fans who discussed the relative merits of dry and rich champagne, and the characteristics of the various vintages. They also compared the charms of champagnes that were ten or fifteen years old, or even older, that in France, in Champagne, would have been considered bizarre accidents, albeit ones that were sometimes rather enjoyable, but which for the English were experiences to be regularly repeated and so they went to great lengths to procure the best bottles. Moreover, in England at the end of the nineteenth century, champagne was no longer reserved for the aristocracy and connoisseurs. The middle classes took every opportunity to imitate them, and ladies held high teas at which both tea and champagne were served.
As we have noted, the British served champagne throughout their meals much more frequently than the French. In London, wrote Newnham-Davis in 1899, when ordering a light dinner for two, one instinctively turns to the champagne page of the wine list. Greater quantities were drunk than in France where, according to Vizetelly, wedding celebrations are the only occasions when champagne flows with anything like the freedom to which one is accustomed in Great Britain. Champagne had become an essential part of weddings in Britain for some time and was also de rigueur at banquets, where it was necessary for toasts, which in those days were extremely numerous, without even counting those made at the meetings of the innumerable social and professional organizations of doctors, solicitors, the military, free-masons, etc.
Champagne could frequently be found at the open air events of which the British are so fond such as garden-parties, picnics, hunts, and of course the races, where it was as popular as ever. In Punch John Leech continued to associate champagne the racecourse, and Vizetelly wrote that, at Ascot, when the Prince of Wales wanted to congratulate the Marquis of Hartington on his success it was with a glass of champagne that he wished him similar luck in the future. Champagne was sometimes the main attraction at fabulous receptions, such as that offered by Major Heatley to two thousand people, whose attention, wrote Louis Enault, was principally drawn to fine glass barrel with a silver tap, the transparent sides of which enabled one to see a large quantity of that French toast, par excellence, the wine of Champagne ! The entire British Empire of course imitated England, particularly in India, where the sumptuous Major Heatley served. Champagne was known there as simkin, which soon became current in the London slang of the period.
How better to end this account of champagne’s success at the end of the nineteenth century in England and the civilised world than by quoting, once again, Henry Vizetelly, who was a loyal and enthusiastic witness. Here is what he has to say in his A History of champagne: Its success in oiling the workings of society life has been so great and so universally recognized that its eclipse would virtually amount to a collapse of our social system. We cannot open a railway, launch a ship, inaugurate a public monument, found a newspaper, receive a distinguished foreigner, invite a grand politician to do us the honour of giving us his opinions on the current situation, celebrate a birthday, or make an exceptional request in the name of a charitable institution, without proposing a banquet, and therefore without the help of champagne.