This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
A wine accidentally discovered by a good Benedictine monk, named Dom Perignon, in or about the year 1688. (See -wines for times to serve, etc).
It is for the interest of the wine manufacturer that a taste for a very sweet wine should predominate in the world. A dry champagne, to be palatable, must be made of the finest raw wine. A sweet champagne can be made of almost any material. The excessive quantity of sugar in the latter masks completely its original character. In the former, every natural feature is distinctly expressed, and its virtues or vices, if it have them, are at once discerned. Champagne, as it is known to the consumer, the vinprepare (prepared wine) of the manufacturers, does not improve by age. The wine, the vin brut (raw), of which it is made, provided it be good, does, however, benefit by increase of years.
The effervescence of champagne depends much upon the form and condition of the glass out of which it is drunk. It sparkles much more freely when poured into a glass pointed, than in one that is round or flat at the bottom. The presence of a little dust, left by a careless waiter, will increase greatly the development of the gas; and the glass that, after being rinsed with water, is wiped with a cloth, however fine, will cause the champagne poured into it to sparkle, while the same wine will be comparatively still in the glass which has been merely rinsed and untouched afterwards.
As soon as the consumer has purchased his stock, he should remove the bottles from the baskets or cases, and lay them in a cellar of about 45 degrees, on their sides, with an inclination of the neck downwards, so that the wine may remain in contact with the corks. Thus, constantly bathed with the vinous fluid, they are prevented from drying and shrinking, and from being covered with mould, which will spoil the flavor of the best champagne. If the cork shrinks, from dryness and heat, the gas will escape, and the wine, losing its sparkle, become flat.
The champagne which explodes the loudest and flows out the frothiest, is by no means the best. It is, in fact, a proof of its inferiority. Good wine largely absorbs the carbonic-acid gas generated in the course of its manufacture. In bad wine the gas, instead of being absorbed, accumulates in the vacant space above the liquid, and thus, when the bottle is opened, the cork explodes with great violence, followed by a cataract of froth. When this escapes, the wine remains comparatively flat. In good wine, on the other hand, the cork may require a great effort to draw, and when drawn there may be little or no^froth, but the liquid will be seen to sparkle with innumerable gems of brightness".
"The prevalent notion that a glass of champagne cannot be too quickly swallowed is erroneous; and it is no bad test of the quality of champagne to have it exposed for some hours in a wineglass, when, if originally of the highest order, it will be found to have lost its carbonic acid, but entirely to retain its body and flavor, which had before been concealed by its effervescence. Champagne should, therefore, not be drunk till this active effervescence is over, by those who relish the above characteristic quality." - "The reason champagne is costly is not -that the grapes from which it is made are less prolific, or require more expensive treatment to vinify than other sorts; it is the amount of care and attention required after bottling that makes the price so high. A bottle of champagne, or other kindred wines, requires, without exaggeration, twenty times the labor and care of any other, and in addition a heavy percentage is annually lost through the bursting of bottles during manufacture, which proportion of breakage rises as the quality of the vintage is more favorable, in good years reaching from ten to twenty-five per cent. - bottles and wine entirely lost - and yet the sale of champagne continues to be both large and remunerative to the grower, and he, to meet the demand, extensively adulterates and doctors inferior qualities, as is proved by the excess of that consumed over that produced; but from the above remarks it can be gathered that there is ho such thing as cheap champagne, and when champagne is offered below a certain figure, one may rest assured it is not champagne at all".