Why do we toast with Champagne on New Year’s Eve?
Why do we pop bottles of champagne at New Years? Why not toast with Merlot or Pinot Grigio? Why do we watch Champagne spill on the floor? Well, for one, because it’s fun and second, because it is considered a wine for celebrations.
Dating back to the 16th Century, European Aristocrats would pop champagne bottles at their “royal parties” and celebrations. Champagne was quite expensive (more expensive than it is now), so only the wealthiest and most elite drank champagne.
The History of Champagne
King Clovis, the King of Northern France, is fighting a war to defend his territory. His wife, the already Christian Burgundian princess Clotide, tells him that if he makes a promise to God that he will convert to Christianity, he will be victorious. He does, and low and behold in 496 CE, he wins the war and as promised gets baptised in the City of Reims (the centre of France’s Champagne region). For centuries afterward all the kings of France are crowned in Reims. The royal court and nobility would make the long voyage to Reims and would stay to celebrate. So wine was needed, and lots of it. After developing a taste for the wines of the region, they would often request it once they were back home in their palaces and estates.
Unfortunately, the wine did not always travel well. By the time it got to them it would be carbonated because the yeast put in the wine to ferment it would be dormant in cold weather and then would come alive in the hot weather. Since the wine was transported in closed barrels, the carbon dioxide stayed in the wine causing it to become sparkling. Rather than being seen as ruined wine, they adopted it as a new type ‘Champagne” and marketed it as a drink for the rich (and they were the only ones who could afford it.)
According to Associate History Professor at the University of Texas Kolleen M. Guy,“Royalty loved the novelty of sparkling wine. It was said to have positive effects on women’s beauty and man’s wit.”
Didn’t Dom Perignon the 17th Century monk create Champagne?” While Dom Perignon tremendously improved the quality of Champagne by changing its packaging from barrels to bottles thereby maintaining the sparkle and also creating the cork stoppers that we now use on every Champagne bottle to create the “pop that cork” effect. (Dom Perignon’s original cork stoppers were made with string, while modern ones are metal).
Popping champagne was actually really dangerous. Bottles would explode at random causing shards of glass to fly everywhere.
Dom Perignon took it upon himself to create a new thicker type of bottle specifically designed not to explode under the carbonated pressure. Not only saving the wine, but lives of many wine industry workers, who were being killed by exploding bottles of glass.
Okay, so why do we associate Champagne with celebrations?
After the French Revolution secularized French society, Champagne became the antithesis wine. Wine was used for religious rituals and because society wanted to be seen as more secular they decided to use Champagne to celebrate what was once religious celebrations i.e.: weddings, ship christenings, ringing in the new year etc … And so as NYE jumped the religious-secular divide so did our celebratory drink.
After the Industrial Revolution, monarchy and nobility no longer held the monopoly of wealth and the Champagne marketing geniuses saw a new market open up to them, the rising nouveau riche merchant class. These merchants could not afford to drink Champagne on a daily basis, so they drank it on special occasions tying Champagne back again to special occasions as in our modern times. These days not only is the drinking of Champagne associated with celebrations and joy but according to Guy, Champagne’s symbolism is also visual “since it overflows in abundance and joy. Opening rather than drinking is the symbol and sometimes enough.”
Whether you will be drinking Champagne or simply watching it spill over (Which we hope more of the former than the latter because Champagne is a terrible thing to waste.). We wish you a happy and Champagne-filled New Year!