The first literary mention of Champagne was in an English Restoration comedy, according to a new documentary which explores the theory that the drink is not as French as the French like to think.
The drink appears in The Man of Mode, or, Sir Fopling Flutter, a 1676 play by George Etherege. The characters engage in a drinking song with the lyrics:
“At the Plays we are constantly making our Court
And when they are ended we follow the sport.
To the Mall and the Park
Where we love till ‘tis dark;
Then sparkling Champaigne
Puts an end to their reign.”
According to the makers of Sparkling: The Story of Champagne, the discovery bolsters the theory that Champagne was developed in England long before it was popularised in France.
The film features Stephen Fry as Sir Fopling, re-enacting scenes from the play.
Stephen Fry appears in Frank Mannion's documentary
Credit: Hannah McKay/PA Wire
English aristocracy ‘made Champagne fashionable’
Frank Mannion, the director, said The Man of Mode includes “the first mention of sparkling champagne anywhere in the world… it offers documentary proof to the British claim that the Brits were drinking sparkling Champagne years before Dom Perignon, the ‘Father of Champagne’.
“In fact, it was the English aristocracy that helped to make the sparkling drink fashionable and that’s one of the reasons why the English can make a claim to having ‘discovered’ Champagne.”
The row over the origins of Champagne is about who invented the method of making the French wine sparkling, and popularised the effervescent drink.
Dom Perignon, a French Benedictine monk, is credited with champagne production in 1697, although his story is shrouded in myth. The claim that he called to his fellow monks: “Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” was invented for a late-19th century marketing campaign.
Bolstering the English case, it has also been claimed that Christopher Merrett, a West Country scientist, invented the second fermentation technique required to produce champagne, and the bottles to contain it, documenting his discoveries in 1662.
The film includes a visit to the Royal Society to examine Merrett’s paper, in which he described making wine effervescent.
Mannion said: “In the film, we canvass several different opinions as to the origin of champagne and leave it up to the audience to decide who invented it.
“In this post-Brexit age, it is a colourful prism through which we can have a good-humoured look at Anglo-French relations.”
Sir Winston Churchill was said to have consumed more than 40,000 bottles of Pol Roger in his lifetime
Credit: Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images
The film features interviews with Tony Laithwaite, the Queen’s winemaker, and the chairmen of Taittinger and Bollinger, along with the chef de cave of Dom Perignon.
Sir Nicholas Soames also appears to discuss the champagne consumption of his grandfather, Sir Winston Churchill, who is said to have drunk more than 40,000 bottles of Pol Roger in his lifetime.
The film, which will be available on BritBox from the end of July, was shot during lockdown.
Mannion said: “We were fortunate to be able to shoot during lockdown as champagne producers were classified as essential workers.”