Here’s an interesting bit of trivia for you. One of the world’s most famous wines is named after a monk, Dom Pérignon. Costing anything between $135 and $13,500 this bottle of champagne is one of the most sought after wines in the world. The wine’s namesake was a French monk who lived and worked in the Abbey of Hautvillers near the town of Épernay in France, which falls in the Champagne region. While most of us would associate the name with the sparkling beverage, Champagne is in fact an important grape growing region in France.
With wine being an important part of the Catholic mass, a regular supply was necessary and so the Benedictine monks became one of the largest producers of wine in France and Germany. The Dom belonged to this order and was put in charge of the Abbey’s winemaking operation. At that time, the region was known for its still red wine. Dom Pérignon worked many years to make the wine better and made a significant contribution to develop ways to prepare white wine from red grapes.
Since its conception champagne has been an almost integral part of celebrations. An image of Formula 1 drivers celebrating their victory by spraying golden champagne around comes to mind as does the tradition of breaking a bottle of champagne on the hull of a ship to launch the vessel.
A common mistake is thinking that all pale bubbly wine is Champagne; this isn’t so. Only sparkling wine made from grapes of Champagne are allowed to bear the name. EU law and the laws of most countries reserve the term ‘Champagne’ exclusively for wines that come from this region located about 100 miles (160 km) east of Paris.
While wine is mostly thought to be a French invention, its origins are still a bit unclear. Archaeologists believe that the earliest known wine production took place in Georgia (part of the erstwhile USSR) around 6,000 BC. Other notable sites of wine production are said to be Iran and Armenia dated 5,000 BC and 4,000 BC, respectively. Historical accounts say that viticulture was introduced in India around the same time but was possibly for the purpose of producing table grapes or grape juice. However, there is mention of grape-based wine in Chanakya’s writing, which is dated around 4th century BC.
Back in Europe, the Greeks and Romans played an important part in establishing the culture of wine drinking. After the fall of the Roman Empire the production of wine in Europe decreased but its need in the celebration of the Eucharist prodded the Church to take up wine production. It had the resources, security, and stability to improve the quality of its wines. Over time, monasteries produced large quantities to support the maintenance and expansion of the monastic movement. Throughout the Middle Ages (5th-15th century), the best vineyards were owned and tended by the monasteries. They did a lot of work to improve the quality of the drink.
Today wines are bottled the world over and other than France and Germany, there are many wines of note from the USA, South Africa, Chile and Australia to name a few. Globalisation has made it possible for people around the world to enjoy their choice of wines. At the same time some countries which have a suitable climate are growing their own grapes and brewing their own indigenous wines. India is one such country. Some of India’s wine producing areas are located in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
When it began, wine drinking was a privilege of the elite but as time went by it became accessible to the common man as well. In fact, at one point, wine was drunk to compensate for missing nutrients in the diet. At that time in history it was a source of carbohydrates which were missing from the food available to the poor. Some accounts say people substituted water with weak wine since the potable water was of suspicious (read unhygienic) quality.
Nowadays of course a lot of care is taken to pair wine with food to enhance the dining experience. Certain wines and their taste tend to go well with certain kinds of foods and enhance the flavour of the dish. However, given that wine is an alcoholic beverage, you will have to wait for a few years to confirm that fact. For now just take my word for it.