UMC - Grandes Marques et Maisons de Champagne

Champagne Guest Book

Success and Widespread Consumption

Sparkling champagne thus began to gain popularity in the early eighteenth century, although there were still some teething problems to be overcome. There was, it has to be said, a certain inequality in its success. Production was limited and the price was high, it was thus only accessible to the courts of kings and princes and to the wealthy elite of Paris and London. Commander Descartes spoke of this delicious white wine, / Which foams and sparkles in the glass, / Of which mere mortals scarcely drink, / And is but served at the table of the Gods, / Or the Great, for to be sure, / They are the Gods of the earth (ce vin blanc délicieux, / Qui mousse et brille dans le verre, / Dont les mortels ne boivent guerre / Et qu’on ne sert jamais qu’à la table des dieux / Ou des grands, pour en parler mieux, / Qui sont les seuls dieux de la terre) (B34). Now, while it was certainly true that young nobles keen to embrace the latest fashion were enthusiastic drinkers of champagne, it was also true that connoisseurs with more traditional tastes were rather less keen on this disturbingly frothy wine. This foam, which is to the taste of certain people, seems to connoisseurs a strange thing in a good wine.
In the front line of those expressing reticence in this respect, we find Saint-Evremond, who was to remain faithful to the still wines of Champagne until his death in 1703. While he may have done a great deal to bring the latter into fashion in England he certainly did nothing at all for their sparkling progeny.

On this subject it should be noted that a letter of his written on 29 August 1701 to Lord Galloway1 is sometimes mistakenly interpreted. In it Saint-Evremond advises him to have some wine of Champagne sent to him via the Marquis de Puysieulx, and to request that the Marquis makes a little Blend in the way that they used to, forty years ago, before tastes became depraved [1]. Some have deduced from this that Saint-Evremond was contrasting the still wines2 that were made in Champagne around 1660 with the sparkling ones that had since supplanted them and which he did not like. This does not take into account the context, which speaks of wines of Champagne that had become Wines of Anjou, by their colour and their greenness, Saint-Evremond states that they were drunk at the end of July and that we will never have excellent Vins de Montagne if we do not give them a bit of body, whatever modern wine-makers may say. He adds, We have let the Wines of Burgundy become so dominant, despite everything that I have said, and that I have written on the Wines of Champagne, that I no longer dare to name them. You would not believe the turmoil that reigns within me. The references to the Vins de Montagne, which were not yet made in a sparkling version, and to the wines of Anjou and Burgundy, as well as to the time of consumption, leave no doubt that it is a matter of a simple wine lover’s quarrel over the old and the new, the object being the still wines of Champagne, and Saint-Evremond is deploring the way in which they have evolved.

Abbot Bignon leaves no room for doubt as to his preferences in a letter of the 22 January 1734 addressed to Philippe-Valentin Bertin du Rocheret, the less the Wine foams and sparkles in the eyes of the coquettes around the table, the more I prefer it (B 33). As for the already mentioned Bertin du Rocheret, even though he was himself a producer of sparkling wine, he remained a fierce defender of the still wines of Champagne. He wrote and had put to music a cantatille de basse taille, boutade bachique (a short cantata, a Bacchic amusement) against lovers of sparkling Wine, in which he rails against this green poison, prepared for frenzied brains, and then finishes by celebrating the glory of non-sparkling wines, Drink, drink, of this aged wine, / Of this glorious nectar of the vine, / That twinkles in your lovely eyes (Buvons, buvons de ce Vin vieux / De ce nectar délicieux / Qui pétille dans vos beaux yeux) (B21). Bertin du Rocheret was in fact following in his father’s foot steps, and those of several of his illustrious customers, such as the Comte d’Artagnan, who wrote to him on 25 October 1713, I see how wrong I was to ask you to draw off my ’quarteaux’ of wine, so that it might sparkle [2], and the Maréchal de Montesquiou states his preferences for non-sparkling wine in a letter of the 3 January 1714 (B 34).

We know that by now the winemakers of Champagne were expert in their trade, whether it concerned the production of still or sparkling wine. Abbot Pluche wrote that they were capable of rendering [wine], at will, the colour of cherries, ’partridge eyed’, wonderfully white, or perfectly red. What still wines were being made in this period in Champagne? There was an enormous quantity of table wine, poorly structured and undoubtedly fairly mediocre, that was produced for local consumption and which was perfect for the wine fountains that it was customary to set up in town squares on the occasion of visiting royalty or any other public celebration. But wine lovers and connoisseurs had a choice between several types of wine of better quality, in accordance with the tastes of a period when the wines most commonly drunk at meals were white, straw-coloured and red [3].

The good vineyards, which were often also producers of sparkling wine, almost all made red wines. It was no longer a matter of the vins clairets of the sixteenth century, or even those of the seventeenth century, the colour of which was something of an issue. Here is what Canon Godinot had to say in 1718, In recent years several individuals in Champagne have undertaken to make Wine as red as that of Burgundy, and in the colour they have been fairly successful; but to me these sorts of Wine are not quite equal to those of Burgundy, they are by no means as mellow, nor is their taste so pleasant; however, plenty of people ask for them; some even find them better... these Wines are good for Flanders, where they are sold without difficulty as those of Burgundy [4]. It must be said that the beautiful red colour was rarely perfectly natural. Following ancient custom wine was often coloured with elderberries. From 1750, an additive called liqueur de Fismes became available, which was a dye made by boiling elderberries with cream of tartar, and then adding alum as a fixing agent. This became widely sold, benefiting from a royal decree in 1781, and of which the success was not limited to the Champagne region. The Revue de Champagne et de Brie ( XVII, 1884) states that it was sold to clarify and stimulate the wine and to heighten the colour and that a committee of chemists, including Baumé and Chaptal, had concluded, after examining the product, that it was a fruit extract heavily charged with a strong colouring substance, suitable for colouring, degreasing and fortifying wines, without any risk to the health.

The quality of the red wines of Champagne continued to grow and in 1763, in the Spectacle de la Nature, we find a declaration that a wine of of Champagne such as that of Silleri, combines all the vigour of the wine of Burgundy with a quality that one finds nowhere else. In wine, as in the mind, the union of solidity and delicacy is the height of perfection. Canon Godinot and Abbot Pluche were natives of Champagne; an allowance should therefore be made for a certain benevolent partiality for the wines of their region. However the same was not true of Louis-Sébastien Mercier, who wrote in his Tableaux de Paris: the red wine of Champagne seems to me preferable to that of Burgundy. Furthermore, in 1759 Nicolas Bidet confirmed the good quality of these red wines in a comparison of their prices with those of Burgundy, the result of which was largely in favour of the wines of Champagne.

Besides these red wines there was still the vin paillé or "partridge eye", that had become comparable to our modern day rosé [5] , made deliberately as such, for Bidet wrote that vin paillé was much more difficult to make than vin-gris or red (51). For a long time it enjoyed a certain respect and Sir Edward Barry was delighted to find it a particularly salubrious wine, but it fell out of fashion at the end of the century. Legrand d’Aussy wrote, These days the demand is for colours that are clean and well-defined, and that are white or red; Champagne itself, which used to make a lot of ’vins clairets’, now makes only these two colours.

As for still white wines, these were either vins gris, or wines made from white grapes, the latter corresponding to what is today referred to as blancs de blancs. Here is what the Nouvelle Maison Rustique had to say in1790, In Champagne ’vin gris’ is used to refer to the wine that people who are not from the region call the white wine of Champagne. Vin gris is made with black grapes: its beautiful colour should be that of the purest mineral water. As for the wine that is known as white wine in Champagne, this is made using only white grapes; but these grapes are not highly regarded. The only ones to be appreciated were in fact those that came from the modern day Côte des Blancs, and those from Bar-sur-Aube which had some reputation, and could pass for good.

The still wines of Champagne, whatever their colour, without doubt enjoyed a fashionable reputation in France, as we saw from the correspondence of Bertin du Rocheret and other fans. Thus it is with good reason that in 1768 the Traité Complet sur la Vigne, a Swiss work translated from English and therefore impartial, virtually paraphrases Canon Godinot’s slightly premature affirmations that the wines that they make in Champagne are more exquisite than those of the other provinces of the kingdom. Any self respecting host was obliged to serve them at his table. As did Turcaret, who for a dinner for his beloved, sent his valet Frontin to order at Fite, the caterer of renown, all sorts of prepared dishes and twenty-four bottles of the wine of Champagne (360). The esteem in which these wines were held and their high prices gave rise to imitations being sold under the same name. In his farce entitled On ne voit plus que charlatans (Nothing but Charlatans), Panard wrote, Diaphoirus to the wine merchant sells, / Some river water for a fine price; / The merchant sells to the doctor / Some Champagne fresh from Nanterre [6].

Success was no less evident abroad. Philippe V, King of Spain, and the monarch of a country that produced excellent wines but, it is true, Louis XIV’s grandson, only drank the wine of Champagne, as did the queen (563). In England, despite the trading difficulties of which we will learn more later, there was a definite loyalty to the wines of Champagne. There are numerous examples. In the first part of the eighteenth century, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a famous woman of letters, mentions them several times in her works, and in 1786, George Kendall wrote on the 17 August to the Duke of Rutland that he had ordered from the Earl of Genlis 500 bottles of his best wines (556). At the end of the eighteenth century there was even renewed interest in England for the red wines of Champagne which, if one judges by the prices of the wine merchants at the time (589), were enjoying more success than the sparkling wines. The same is true of the still white wines, which for example were the only wines from Champagne offered at an auction at Christies on the 27 and 28 February 1770. In Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon, a masterpiece of English picaresque literature, which appeared in 1844 but which is set in around 1770, we find the following in chapter III, His Grace the lord-lieutenant sent us a flask of Sillery from his own cellar. You know this wine, my dear?, and in chapter XIII, ’Gentlemen’ said he to several jovial fellows with whom he used to discuss a flask of champagne and a Rhenish trout or two after play...

Be that as it may, in France, the little Masters, the rampant supporters of sparkling wine (B 21), established sparkling champagne in their circles in the early years of the eighteenth century. It quickly found praise amongst those who were lucky enough to be able to afford it, or those who knew others who could buy it for them, as was often the case for poets. After the Abbot of Chaulieu, but before 1710, Alexandre Lainez wrote several poems inspired by the wine of Champagne, in which the sparkling nature of the wine is left in no doubt, as can be judged from the extract below from his Eloge du Vin de Champagne (332) :

What passing odour
Tells me of a delicious Wine?
Flow, flow, spirits, Perfume all the space around;
Come play, and frolic in the ferns
Come with a victorious air,
To the gentle tremble of cloud-like foam,
To triumph before my eyes.

The success of the sparkling wines of Champagne gave them, according to some, a lead on the other wines of France. In Burgundy wine-makers, whose wines had for so long been regarded as the undisputed best in the land, were naturally worried about this dangerous competitor. The situation was not new; they had already been alerted by the success of Champagne’s red wines in 1652 when the doctors of Beaune made certain accusations. The faculty of medicine in Rheims riposted and a surprising dialogue was thus established, more literary than scientific, sometimes acidic, which was to last 120 years! This Querelle des vins (Quarrel of the Wines) picked up again in 1711 with the involvement of poets from each camp. The Burgundians published an ode by Grenan, Le Vin de Bourgogne, in which we find, before several perfidious attacks, this handsome tribute to sparkling champagne [7].

Coffin responded to this with La Champagne vangée (Champagne Revenged). He received from the city of Rheims a considerable present of wine in gratitude for his ode and in turn wrote this amusing quatrain by way of thanks:

Such a fine gift will calm our quarrel,
Lower your arms, you of envious Burgundy !
And confess that the most excellent ode
Is that which pays so splendidly.

Grenan then riposted, addressing to Fagon, the king’s doctor, a Requeste in which Burgundy’s fear of seeing their wines supplanted by this new type of wine from Champagne is clearly present. Indeed, he writes.

The rampant liqueur is everywhere,
With sparkling jewels superbly dressed,
Going from table to table to spread its charms,
And finding a way into the best Meals.

There is no better proof of the success that sparkling champagne began to enjoy in certain circles at the beginning of the eighteenth century. As for the Querelle, it was to continue for another fifty years, and the various episodes are too numerous to recount here.

Antony Réal, in his book entitled Ce qu’il y a dans une bouteille de Vin (What’s in a Bottle of Wine), tells of a feast given at the Château d’Anet the by the Duke of Vendôme at the beginning of the eighteenth century, at which, on a signal from the Marquis of Sillery, twelve Bacchic nymphs appeared carrying baskets of flowers from which they proceeded to produce bottles of champagne carrying the Marquis’s arms. A delightful story, but unfortunately completely invented. Réal, writing in 1867, would have used La Fare’s Mémoires as his source; and in these there are details of only one of the feasts at Anet, which furthermore takes place in 1697, and which does not involve Sillery, or Bacchic nymphs or champagne. There is nothing in Saint-Simon, to whom certain authors referred, or in Dangeau or any of the other memoirs of the period, and nothing in Desnoireterre’s Cours Galantes, or in the Château d’Anet’s archives. It is a shame that some writers have given credit to this anecdote and associated it with the introduction of Champagne’s sparkling wine to aristocratic society at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The wonderful light wine with its splendid foam did not need to be promoted in order to succeed at a time when, in the years after 1715, in a reaction against the austere period at the end of the Sun King’s reign, the nobility were much given to feasting.

Champagne immediately became the favourite of the roués of the Regent’s court, the term roué is defined by Louis-Sébastien Mercier as meaning a man of the world, without virtue or principles, but who gives to his vices a seductive exterior, who ennobles them by dint of his grace and wit. Philippe d’Orléans himself generally took nothing but chocolate during the day. But when he drinks a little too much, wrote his mother, Princess Palatine, he does not make use of strong liqueurs, but rather the wine of Champagne. Deploring his weakness, the Gazette de la Régence observed that the wines of Pomard and Champagne cause the prince to find good everything that is desired. There is no doubt that a great deal of champagne was consumed at the petits soupers (light suppers) which took place almost every night in the petits salons of the Palais-Royal. Here is what the Duc de Richelieu had to say, The usual life of the Regent was to give part of the day to business but then in the evening to withdraw with his mistresses and his ’roués’, to sup, to play, to drink etc. This debauched crowd would then leave the next morning and several of them, who had drunk well of the best wine of Champagne, would go home to recover from the previous day’s excesses only to return that evening. And the Chronique de l’oeil-de-boeuf ("The Bull’s-Eye Chronicle"), assured its readers that his Royal Highness’s first amorous sigh coincided with the explosion of the first bottle of the wine of Champagne, adding that sometimes Philippe’s tenderness was exhausted by the sparkling nectar of the flask.

Princess Palatine wrote that the ladies drink even more than the men and that on the day of the funeral of the Duchesse de Berry Mouchy had drunk champagne as gluttonously as if nothing had happened. Among the Regent’s numerous mistresses Marie-Madeleine de la Vieuville, the Countess of Parabère, was renown for her love of pleasure and drink. My son, wrote the Princess Palatine, says that he likes Parabère because she thinks of nothing but amusing herself, and does not involve herself in any business. This would be fine if she were not such a drunkard, and she did not cause my son to drink and eat so much. The Countess of Parabère was for a long time the Regent’s favourite, and presided over the suppers at the Palais-Royal. She left to the ambitious Madame de Tencin the organization of the Château de Saint-Cloud Lupercalia, of which the Duke of Richelieu said that the orgies would never begin until everyone was in that joyful condition that is produced by the wine of Champagne (539). And then again in the Chronique de l’oeil-de-boeuf we read that the beautiful Countess of Gacé had been made drunk at the residence of the Prince de Soubise. She is very fond of the wine of Champagne, but it quickly goes to her head and the intoxication of this delightful creature, her passion equalled by her love of the sparkling nectar, caused romantic chaos.

By 1715 it was not enough just to drink champagne, one had to sing about it as well, and we find in the Recueil d’airs sérieux et à boire (Collection of Serious and Drinking Airs) :

The Champagne has appeared,
Drinkers, stir yourselves,
Pour, and fill my glass,
That Bacchus may arouse us.

And a few years later in the Nouveau Recueil de chansons choisies (New Collection of Selected Songs):

Champagne is my Favourite,
Its foam so pleasing in my glass.

Champagne was the wine that was talked about amongst people of the world, and there are numerous champagne anecdotes.

We will content ourselves with two stories from the Journal de la Régence. In 1716 we read that, M. Rouillé du Coudray having arrived a little late at the Financial Commission, M. le Duke of Noailles said to him jokingly, "Perhaps it was the wine of Champagne that delayed you?" To which M. du Coudray retorted, "It is true that I like a little champagne, but never to the point of a pot-de-vin" Which gave to the first a somewhat red face. (Translator’s note: a pot-de-vin or jug of wine was a euphemism for a bribe). In the same Journal we find on 1 June 1717 an account of Tsar Peter the Great’s visit to France, The next day he was at Fontainebleau, where he found the wine so good that he became drunk... Having left the table and withdrawn to his room he ordered a further four bottles of the wine of Champagne which he drank with his vice-chamberlain and Prince Kourakin, before going to bed [8]. Which no doubt caused Frederick-William 1 of Prussia to say, "What did Peter the Great bring back from his travels?.. The habit of getting drunk on the wine of Champagne instead of eau-de-vie".

However, even when the Regency was over, both champagne and the pens of the poets continued to sparkle. While, contrary to that supposed by Antony Réal (522), it did not particularly inspire Fontenelle, the Abbot of Attaignant, Canon of the cathedral of Rheims from 1740 to 1776, a fine mind and a regular at the court of Versailles, dedicated an impromptu slightly bawdy piece to Mme de Blagny on a bottle of champagne, the cork of which popped between her hands:

See this charming nectar
Jump through those pretty fingers, and depart this very instant;
I can well believe that Love would do just the same.

As for the amiable Panard, he praised champagne by writing songs that he had printed in the shape of a glass, and by bringing it on stage in Le Charme du Vaudeville à Table:

And so the happy reveller
Seizes the flask bound tight
Which does hold prisoner
The liqueur of Rheims and Ai
And to the roof lets fly
The cork with all its might.

For their part the roués, after the good times that were had during the Regency, continued to set the tone and to drink the wine of Champagne. They were soon followed and even overtaken by Louis XV and his favourites. Light suppers were regularly organized in the petits appartements ("small apartments") of the Versailles palace by Madame de Mailly, the Comtesse de Toulouse and Mademoiselle de Charolais.

An unsigned work of the period, Les Fastes de Louis XV (Tales of Louis XV), states that at these occasions the pleasures of love were celebrated as well as those of the table. Adding that, When the Princesses had retired or were absent, the orgies became truly Bacchic; Madame de Mailly... who adores Champagne, inspired the king to develop a taste for it. All the old drinking games were played: who could drink his opponent under the table, and then after a hard fought battle it would be up to certain trusted servants, to pick up both the victors and the vanquished.

The king’s suppers were more restrained under the reign of Madame de Pompadour than during Madame de Mailly’s time, but we do know that the Marquise enjoyed the wine of Champagne at them, and that it was most certainly sparkling. Here is a song written by the Abbot of Bernis in its honour, during a dinner to which he was invited by the king:

This Champagne is ready to fly;
In its prison it fumes,
Impatient to cover you
With its shining foam.
Do you know why this charming Wine,
When your hand does shake it so,
Does like lightening
Fly and hurry forth ?
Bacchus in vain in his flask
Holds back the rebel Love;
For Love always escapes from prison
At the hand of a Belle.

It was said that the Marquise brought champagne into fashion out of irritation that the Prince de Conti, rather than herself, had managed to acquire Romanée in Burgundy. There is no proof of this, and in any case we know that the wine of kings was already well on the way to fame without any such help. She is also credited with saying that champagne is the only wine that a woman can drink and remain beautiful; Patrick Forbes amusingly wrote that, any woman visiting Champagne can be sure that one of the locals will quote this remark within five minutes of her arrival (225). It is, however, unlikely that she was the author of this aphorism, since it is nowhere to be found in the numerous memoirs of the period. This is a shame because it would have been all the more fitting coming from the mouth of a woman of whom the Duc de Richelieu, who was far from being a friend, said she had beautiful white skin, and what could be called a very pretty figure.

In his youth the king hunted more than he drank; he did however sometimes calm his fever for hunting with wine from Champagne, as recounted by Abbot Bignon to Philippe-Valentin Bertin du Rocheret (B 31). But after the death of Madame de Pompadour the dinners became indispensable to him and, in the company of several gentlemen and Mesdames de Mirepoix, de Flavacourt, and de Lauraguais, his soupeuses (dinner companions), he drank, according to the Duc de Richelieu a lot of the wine of Champagne, no doubt sparkling, and gave himself up to fashionable pastimes. One of these consisted of making up impromptu rhymes on a given theme. One evening the Duc d’Ayen suggested Adam and produced a poem entitled Les Plaisirs de Choisy; here is the verse that refers to champagne:

He drank water sadly
Staying with his companion.
While we others sang gladly
As we opened champagne.

The great writers, especially Voltaire and Diderot, appreciated champagne and found a place for it in their writings; examples can be found in the final chapter of this book, which deals with champagne in the arts and letters. Other authors did the same. Marmontel, in his memoirs, describes his harvests in Avenay with Mademoiselle de Navarre, an actress at the Opéra-Comique and one of the Maréchal de Saxe’s mistresses. If there was a storm, he writes, because she was afraid of thunder, we would have to eat in the cellars: and in the middle of fifty thousand bottles it was hard not to get carried away. Grimm recounts that in Le Souper, a comedy by an unknown author performed on 8 July 1754, the heroine, Célie, must choose between three lovers in a froth of champagne and a fury of epigrams. And here is the advice of Dupuy-Demportes, now often forgotten, but who was in fact one of the most prolific men of letters of the eighteenth century: Aussi brillant, mais plus sensuel que l’astre du jour, qui se précipite dans le sein de l’Onde, au bout de sa course journalière, choisissez mieux votre élément ; donnez la préférence au Champagne le plus pétillant (As brilliant but more sensual than the daytime star, which hastens to the bosom of the Waves, at the end of its daily course, choose your element more wisely; give preference to the most sparkling Champagne).

The suppers at Versailles were matched by those in the capital. The conversation and games would go on until two or three in the morning, or even later, and sparkling champagne competed happily with other fashionable drinks such as tea, coffee and chocolate. The Comte de Cheverny wrote in his memoirs: Everybody gathered together; oysters and champagne had been set out on the table and we began to sup again. In Choiseul’s time, private suppers fell out of fashion. All the wealthy houses gloried in keeping an open table; the nobles found themselves increasingly less able to participate, their places being taken by financiers and the more powerful administrators. Trudaine gave two grand dinners every week and a supper every evening, Dutens recounts that the houses of La Reynière and La Borde were open to all those who presented themselves [9], Monsieur de la Popelinière informs us in his Tableaux des Moeurs du Tems (Pictures of the Customs of the Time) that champagne was an essential ingredient of such suppers. The provinces imitated, in the larger towns, the joyful life of the capital. In Châlons-sur-Marne in the 1770s, after dancing, the rest of the night would be spent playing; a pause was taken at seven in the morning for breakfast, and then the games continued. And, of course, the champagne did not stop sparkling at these interminable parties.

However, during the course of the century, the sparkling wine of Champagne almost became a victim of its own success, when certain producers attempted to produce more without any concern for quality, which was sometimes deplorable on account of the rigours of the climate, as we shall see later.

It was thus that in 1740 Malavois de la Ganne came to write: the wine was of a greenness of which I had not seen the like, and according to the cellar master had been very difficult to clarify, this having been achieved only on account of the strength of the drugs that we were eventually obliged to employ, which I had not wanted to use. And, reading a memoir of 1747, one learns that while in times past only the best wines were put in bottles... for the last eight or ten years, several individuals have taken to bottling a proportion of the more mediocre wines, hoping to sell them more advantageously in bottles than in barrels should the wine begin to foam.

This was an exceptional practice and, as a result, did little to harm the reputation of the sparkling wine of Champagne, which was soon to reach such heights that imitations became inevitable, as the poet Delille indicates, in around 1760 :

More than one counterfeiter of the most perfect wine
Knows well how to imitate the scent;
Even the deceitful foam of a false Aï
Sparkling in the glass
Has tricked more than one gourmet.

Overcoming such obstacles the sparkling wine of Champagne continued on its way, gaining new followers all the time. The house of Ruinart has a letter from 1764 from one of its customers, who wrote: I have been so content with the first two baskets that I received from you that it is with great pleasure that I would like to order two more, but must ask most earnestly that they be as sparkling as possible. I am not unaware, Messieurs, that fine gourmets prefer the non sparkling, but as there are are very few of them you must surely content the multitude who prefer the sparkling. This makes the situation perfectly clear, the term multitude could still, however, only have been referring to the majority of drinkers in a very small circle.

The sparkling wine of Champagne was also in fashion abroad, in those places where it was the form to follow the fashions in France, although not to the extent of supplanting the region’s still wines. Whether he was in Brussels or Vienna, the Prince of Ligne set a valiant example, for while he condemned dissoluteness he wholeheartedly endorsed the pursuit of sensual pleasures, writing of a character who was gallant and gay, who composed compliments in the morning for the women that he wanted to have, songs about those that he had had, and in the evening epigrams about all of them, with his friends who toasted them with the wine of Champagne. In his Memoirs, Casanova recounts how he was invited to supper in Venice by one of his mistresses, on leave from her convent for the occasion. A simple dress in mousseline des Indes, he wrote, transformed my kindly nun into a ravishing nymph... we drank nothing but wines from Burgundy and Champagne.

In England, at the beginning of the century, Champagne’s wines suffered considerably from competition from port. However, we find Prior writing that nothing is more distressing than to have to drink a thick port rather than a fine champagne (506). Furthermore, George II was a fan of the wines of Champagne and, in London as in Paris, the court set the tone. Thanks to royal favour and in spite of its price, or perhaps because of its price, sparkling champagne came back into fashion from around 1730. In 1735 in the third plate of Hogarth’s The Rake’s progress, The Tavern, white wine is being drunk which, given the general atmosphere of the scene, must be champagne. In the last third of the eighteenth century champagne’s popularity was given a further boost by Lord Chesterfield and his friends, and maintained by the intellectuals and dandies in the wake of Sheridan, Brummell and the Prince of Wales, the future George IV. In 1772 the Earl of Chesterfield wrote: Give me champagne, fill the glass to the brim [10]. In 1777 one of Sheridan’s characters in The School for Scandal, complains of certain people that their conversation is become just like the Spa water they drink, which has all the pertness and flatulence of champagne without its spirit or flavour.

The sparkling wines of Champagne were drunk in London where in Vauxhall in 1762 they cost eight livres a bottle, against six for Burgundy, five for Bordeaux and two for port or sherry (588). They were also drunk in Bath, where they were practically part of "taking the waters", and appear in the first scene of Samuel Foote’s The Fair Maid of Bath. While they were mostly appreciated in the wealthy and extravagant circles for which they were almost exclusively reserved, this did not prevent the very serious economist Arthur Young from stopping at Mareuil on 5 July 1789 to see the famous vineyards of Epernay which produce the excellent champagne.

Champagne graced parties and suppers throughout cosmopolitan Europe in the eighteenth century, and was drunk by high society in every capital. Melesina Trench recounts an occasion before a dinner in Dresden when Lady Hamilton declared that she was passionately fond of champagne, drinking a surprising quantity and, with Lord Nelson not being there, their host, Mr. Elliot, had considerable difficulty in stopping the flow of champagne. In Germany, Schiller sang of the sparkling wine of Champagne in his Ode to Joy:

Brothers, fly from your seats,
When the full rummer is going around,
Let the foam gush up to heaven

Goethe wrote in Wilhelm Meister that the young Philine took on a new tint of loveliness, that she seemed as it were to live on air; eating very little; and for drink, merely skimming off, with all imaginable grace, the foam from a glass of champagne.

Frederick II, the King of Prussia, who was of an enquiring mind, took an interest in the scientific aspects of the sparkling wine of Champagne. His biographer, Jean-Charles La Veaux, reports that at his Academy of Sciences, he one day posed the following question: "What is the physical explanation for the fact that when two glasses full of the wine of Champagne are clinked together they do not give the same clear, strong sound as when they are full of any other wine; and why is this sound so dull and stifled [11]? The academicians replied that since they could not afford to buy any wine of Champagne, they could neither observe or explain this phenomenon. So the king sent them a dozen bottles of the wine of Champagne, which they drank but did not offer any reply. And yet Frederick II had been correct in his observation, and the explanation is that the rising bubbles of carbon dioxide induce a change of resonance by interrupting the passage of sound waves through the liquid.

Nevertheless, in the last part of the eighteenth century, apart from certain circles in high society, the fashion for sparkling champagne underwent something of an eclipse. In 1775 Sir Edward Barry wrote that if the French and the English had been particularly fond of it in the past, the former had nearly totally abandoned this depraved taste which, even in England is no longer as predominant as it was. Confirmation of this can be found in France in a work of 1788: It is not more than a hundred years since the fashion for making the wine of Champagne sparkle began, and it has not been twenty since it stopped. All that remains are mentions in drinking songs in which foaming Champagne is celebrated. Only a few old Drinkers still remember the ecstasy of seeing a cork hitting the ceiling. This is probably an exaggeration but it was a fact that while sparkling wine was still popular with pleasure seekers, it was the still wine of Champagne that was generally favoured in more genteel society.

It is true that Louis XVI’s court had nothing in common with that of the Regent. The king had much quieter habits and perhaps never drank any sparkling champagne other than that which was offered to him at his coronation in Rheims, on 11 June 1775. In 1782, according to a document drawn up by the house of Gosset, based on the original manuscript, an inventory of his cellar included bottles of red Verzy and Bouzy; there are also listed some bottles of the wine of Champagne, but there is no indication that they were sparkling. It is, however, certain that the still wine of Champagne was to Louis XVI’s taste.

André Castelot offers two anecdotes on this subject. He writes that waking up one morning at six the king enquired of a snack of chicken and chops, remarking that "It’s really not much when they bring me eggs with gravy and a bottle of champagne." He also recounts that when the royal family fled to Varenne, a bottle of still champagne and six bottles of water was all that they had to drink

The wines of Champagne, both sparkling and still, continued to flow in Paris after the storming of the Bastille. People started to drink them at the more substantial lunches that had replaced the light meal that used to be eaten for breakfast. Louvet de Couvray wrote: In the meantime we lunched in the same way that we dined; the wine of Champagne was not spared and we know that Bacchus is the father of gaiety. The wines of 1779 were sold at Lemoine’s, near the Palais-Royal, and the restaurateur Théron had a cream of roasted orange blossoms with the wine of Champagne on the menu [12]. In the dungeons that were full of nobles and financiers they would ask the jailer to have some wine of Champagne brought down, and in the Temple Prison, it was served at every meal of the unfortunate royal family.

The drawing above, L’Accord Fraternel, (Brotherly Agreement) reflects the aristocratic status of champagne. Representatives of the three orders of the States General are shown with glasses in their hands, a large glass of table wine for the third Estate, a glass of Bordeaux for the Clergy and a flute of champagne for the Nobility. But Maréchale Junot, the Duchesse d’Abrantès, informs us that, whatever their social origin, the men of the Revolution often held meetings, dinners and suppers. The day after the execution of Queen Marie-Antoinette the menu for the members of the revolutionary court proposed the following: béchamel with wing meat and foie gras; roasted fattened chicken; twelve larks per person; champagne. The memoir writer Antoine Caillot wrote that the friends of the people would open champagne before playing the role of legislator (79). Restif de la Bretonne declared that champagne was responsible for the generation of the daughter of Elise, one of the heroines of the Nuits Révolutionnaires and, in a caricature that appeared in May of 1790 in the Journal de la Mode et du Goût (Journal of Fashion and Taste), Mirabeau-Tonneau can be seen holding a foaming flute.

Danton, just before being guillotined in the Place de la Révolution, is supposed to have drunk a glass of champagne and cried, Vive l’Ay et la liberté! (Long live Ay and Freedom), but no mention of this is made in any of the historical accounts, some of which describe in great detail the last moments of Danton, Camille Desmoulins and Hérault de Séchelles, who were condemned to death in the same cart.

One might ask in what precise circumstances sparkling champagne was drunk in the eighteenth century.

It should be noted in passing that, with or without bubbles, since the 1660s in England and the beginning of the century in France, wine of Champagne or champagne were used interchangeably the latter being more common in literature and in informal conversation. The Dictionnaire de l’Académie of 1798 gives as an example: They drank some sparkling champagne and Restif de la Bretonne wrote in his Tableaux de la Vie (Pictures of Life): They drank some champagne. But correct or well-educated usage required that the expression wine of Champagne be used, as Grimod de la Reynière reminds us in his Host’s Manual, as does the Duchesse d’Abrantès, relating the way that Abbot Delille had reproached his provincial friend, saying: "My friend, never ask for just champagne, but for some wine of Champagne... otherwise people will make fun of you and treat you as if you are dining at a cabaret.".

It has already been established that the sparkling wine of Champagne was the wine of the privileged classes, that it accompanied their pastimes and took its appointed place at suppers. But it is interesting to note the happy conjunction that quickly sprang up between the fair sex and champagne, and this was not true only for the companions of the Regent, of Louis XV and of the Abbot of Chaulieu. Philippe-Valentin Bertin du Rocheret, who had always been hostile to the sparkling form of champagne, was surprised that the ladies who were at table with him found it generally to their liking and, their appetite awakened by the prodigious effects of the wines of the year, were popping corks with remarkable noise and impetuosity (B 21). Women in those days wanted prettiness in everything that surrounded them and what could have been more charming than sparkling champagne, which made their wit more lively and their eyes more brilliant; it was the only wine that ladies of society permitted themselves to drink between meals. They took open pleasure in doing so, to the extent that this might provide their companion with a reason or a pretext for opening a bottle. It was even permissible to drink it in the solitude of their apartments: I would hide away, if I was getting drunk in my bedroom with the wine of Champagne, a lady is quoted as saying at the end of the century.

As well as being a wine for parties and celebrations champagne was also a dessert wine served at dinners in both noble and bourgeois households, and in the first restaurants, which had appeared in Paris in around 1770 and of which the most famous soon became Beauvilliers and Véry. It is recorded in the Histoire des Français des Divers Etats (The History of the French of the Different States) that: Paris no longer favours the same provinces as in times past. Champagne is supplying its new dessert wines. The fashion is now for champagne. And what went for Paris, generally went for the provinces, if a little later.

For detailed information on how champagne was served at this time there is a particularly explicit work entitled the Déjeuner d’Huîtres (The Oyster Lunch) by Jean-François De Troy, painted in 1737. Gentlemen are shown tasting oysters and drinking champagne, which is undoubtedly sparkling because on the left side of the picture a cork can be seen flying towards the ceiling. Bottles with corks secured with string are in special coolers, as was the custom with champagne, which was drunk frappé de glace (iced). The same result could just as well be obtained with a silver or earthenware bucket, as with the carafon à rafraîchir, known in England from around 1775 as a decanter especially for champagne. A mixture of ice and water was placed in a recipient. The ice generally came from an ice room, where it was stored during the winter, but artificial ice was also used, for which recipes were given involving various salts such as saltpetre and alum.

In France the custom of the time was to faire sauter le bouchon (to pop the cork). It was often the Ladies who were talented in releasing a cork with good grace, but in the picture mentioned above only men are present. One of them has just liberated the cork from a bottle and still has the knife in his hand with which he cut the string; one might think that the wine was a grand mousseux (very sparkling) because the cork flies out courageously, but since the bottle is then poured from a height the pressure can only have been relatively modest.

Glasses were conical and not very tall [13]: these were the glasses commonly used in the eighteenth century for all fine wines. They were sometimes embossed, which had the advantage, for sparkling champagne, of hiding any deposit. Glasses were generally arranged on a side-board, the personal valets filling them and bringing them at the request of each guest. For the oyster lunch the glasses are laid out for guests who serve themselves, producing a certain gaiety and a relaxed atmosphere. We can see that the glasses that are not in the hands of drinkers have been put, upside down, in porcelain bowls, perhaps to allow the cloudy wine remaining in the bottom of the glass to drain away. This is not the case in Lancret’s Déjeuner de jambon12 (Ham Lunch) which goes with the Déjeuner d’Huîtres. Again we see joyous companions drinking champagne, but as the meal is outdoors they can empty their glasses with a flick of the wrist.

From 1755 much taller conical glasses were made in England, which were described on invoices as champagne glasses and then, from about 1773, as champagne flutes; these had fairly long and sometimes hollow stems. Glasses were sometimes faceted in order to obscure the possible cloudiness of wines. This custom spread in France later on; Grimod de la Reynière wrote in 1808 that we have for some years now adopted narrow, very deep glasses with a special shape for the sparkling wine of Champagne, but it was not until the nineteenth century that the word flûte began to be given in French dictionaries as meaning a drinking glass.


[1Saint-Evremond. Works of Monsieur de Saint-Evremond, and the Life of the Author, published by Des Maizeaux. Amsterdam, 1726.

[2Cited by Bourgeois, this letter has disappeared from the manuscripts of the Library of Epernay where it was kept..

[3LEMERY (Louis). Treatise on Foods. Paris, 1705.

[4GODINOT (Attributed to Canon Jean). The Manner of Cultivating Vines and Making Wine in Champagne and what may be imitated in other regions to improve their wines. Avignon, 1719. - Second edition enlarged with some secrets for rectifying wines and the boards of various engraved presses. Rheims, 1722.

[5At the time rosé was not generally described as vin paillé. However we find in P.V. Bertin du Rocheret’s journal of 30 October 1742, for M. Matheux, rosez 300 (B 35).

[6PANARD (or PANNARD). Theatre and Various Works. Paris, 1763.

[7Anthology of Latin and French Poems on the Wines of Champagne and Burgundy. Paris, 1712.

[8BUVAT (Jean). Journal de la Régence (17151723), published by Emile Compardon. Paris, 1865.

[9DUTENS (Louis). Memoirs of a Resting Traveller. Paris, 1806.

[10CHESTERFIELD (Earl of). Lord Chesterfield’s Witticisms or the Grand Pantheon of Genius, Sentiments and Taste. London, 1772.

[11This story was changed by Eugène Pelletan in Frederick the Great, A Philospher King in which the question becomes simply: Why does champagne foam?.

[12GONCOURT (Edmond and Jules de). The History of French Society during the Revolution.

[13The word flute was not at that time used in France to designate a glass.