Champagne is champagne because it comes from Champagne. But there’s much more to it than that, as the wine-loving Kladstrups (Wine & War, 2001) document in this sometimes fizzy portrait of the bubbly.
Faux naïveté may be at play when, by way of opening, the Kladstrups let drop the hint that they were shocked to learn that the Great War was horrific; that certainly isn’t news to the people of France’s much-fought-over Champagne region. That four-year conflict proves central to the authors’ account of how bubbly survived the odds to become a drink known around the world—and to become an ever-rarer commodity in parts of it, as when Cristal went from selling 600,000 bottles a year at the beginning of WWI in St. Petersburg alone, “exclusively for the czar,” to selling nothing in Russia after the Revolution, nearly bankrupting the house of Roederer. Closer to home, the war threatened to destroy some of France’s most productive vineyards, which previous wars had destroyed many times over since the days of the Roman conquest and Attila. The Kladstrup’s travelogue, real and metaphorical, through the Champagne region—battles over which were waged by French bureaucrats and boosters, too, as to just what the region comprised and who was entitled to use its “controlled denomination”—gets a little almanac-like at times, lending a sort of everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about feel to the enterprise. Still, there’s good history to be found here, and plenty of treasures in that surfeit of facts and trivia; the authors’ account of a drunken German retreat at the beginning of WWI is a standout, as is their minibiography of the since-appropriated Dom Pérignon, who didn’t really invent champagne—“it invented itself”—but still deserves glory for his work in raising the global quality of life with his exquisite blends of potent grape juice.
Not the definitive history of champagne, but a pleasing contribution, to be read over a mimosa or a magnum.