Champagne is British? A perfidious idea, say French

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CORKS ARE popping angrily all over France: a British wine writer claims to have found documentary proof that champagne was invented in London 300 years ago.

"Once again, the kingdom of warm beer is picking a quarrel with us," said the right-wing daily Le Figaro yesterday.

"First, the perfidious British claim - against all reason - to have the best restaurants in the world; now they say that they invented champagne," complained Francois Simon, a food writer.

It has long been claimed that the method for making fizzy wine - fermenting the wine a second time in the bottle - was devised in England in the 17th century.

Quid, the Gallic bible of facts and figures, asserts that the process was invented by a French Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon, "around 1688".

Not so, says Tom Stevenson in his forthcoming book A World Encyclopaedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine. He reproduces a recipe presented to the Royal Society in London in December 1662 by one Christopher Merret, which describes a method for provoking second fermentation, and bubbles, by putting sugar in bottles of raw, white wine. This is the "methode champenoise" used to make sparking wine all over the world today.

Eric Glatre, a historian of champagne, says the recipe for making bubbly wines had been around for years. But it was the English who first recognised the commercial possibilities - using white wine from the Champagne region. They cannot claim, however, to have "invented" champagne, he said.

Champagne is a unique product of the Champagne region. Champagne was not "invented" by anyone - it was "discovered". By the English.