Why do we drink sparkling wine on special occasions?

In the 19th century, when Asti growers developed their production method, the timing was impeccable: The world was thirsty for more sparkling wine and Piedmont was ready to give it to them!

In our last post, we looked at how Moscato d’Asti transformed the world of sparkling wine and changed the world’s perceptions of sparkling wine and how it was produced and consumed.

Next week, we’ll look at some of the technical aspects of how Moscato d’Asti is made and why it’s such a unique expression of viticulture (it really is and many will be surprised by how it’s actually made; there is still so much confusion in the wine world about what makes wines sparkle).

But this week, I wanted to take a moment and look at an even broader and more important question: Why is it that sparkling wine has such a unique place in the world of wine? Why is it that we drink sparkling wine on special occasions? And why is it that even people who don’t drink wine on a regular basis drink sparkling wine like Moscato d’Asti?

Most wine historians would point to a misunderstanding otherwise known as the English Channel.

It is believed that during the 17th century, northern French grape growers would vinify their wines and ship them to England across the channel in barrels — what we would call barriques today (roughly 225-liter casks). The size of the barriques was ideal because it only took two persons to carry them.

Supposedly, the cold winters of northern France would arrest fermentation at the wineries. Unaware of the stuck fermentations, the winemakers would ship the wine anyway. As a result, fermentation would begin again in the barriques used for shipping. By the time the wines got to England, they would be sparkling (thanks to the CO2, a natural by-product of fermentation, trapped in the cask).

Even though the wine wasn’t intended to be sparkling, the English found it to their liking. And it quickly became the favorite wine of the elite ruling class. And there’s the rub: Because of its association with aristocracy and Britain’s growing number of wealthy business people at the time, sparkling wine became a symbol of “the good life,” a sine qua non of the entitled.

Since that time, sparkling wine became the go-to wine of queens, kings, princesses, and princes. And not just in England: Russia and America also became devoted consumers of sparkling wine. And in the modern era, film and television only helped to solidify sparkling wine’s role as the beverage of celebration.

In the 19th century, when Asti growers developed their production method, the timing was impeccable: The world was thirsty for more sparkling wine and Piedmont was ready to give it to them!

In next week’s post, we’ll take a close look at how Moscato d’Asti is made. Get ready to wear your wine nerd hat!

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Jeremy Parzen
After obtaining his Ph.D. in Italian literature at U.C.L.A. in 1997, Jeremy Parzen moved to New York City where he shifted his focus to food and wine. By 1998, he was the chief wine writer for the English-language edition of La Cucina Italiana. In 2005, he published his annotated translation of Maestro Martino's 15th century cookery book, The Art of Cooking (University of California Press). In 2007, he launched his blog DoBianchi.com (named after the Venetian expression for two glasses of white wine). Since that time, he has published countless articles on Italian food and wine, including bylines for publications like Decanter and Wine and Spirits, which named him a "Master of Place" in 2017. Known for his humanist perspective onto the world of Italian enogastronomy, he works as wine and restaurant industry consultant from his home office in Houston, where he and his wife Tracie (a native Texan) are raising their two daughters. A former rock musician and songwriter, Jeremy continues to compose and record music with and for his family. He was honored to be named an Italian Association of Wine Merchants ambassador in 2018 for his "profound scholarship in the humanities, his great knowledge of winemaking, and his excellence in communications."

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