Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.
Ostensibly, it was on today’s date back in 1693 that Dom Pérignon, a Benedictine monk, invented Champagne, popping the cork on his newly effervescent liquid, slugging it back and dancing around saying things like, “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!”
One hates to be the rain on the Champagne-party parade, but unfortunately, the Dom P story is just that - a story. The fellow did exist, and he did make wine, but he very likely spent a lot more time worrying about how not to have bubbles in his wine rather than the other way around. (Especially since bottles back then were weaker and would often blow up if a wine started to re-ferment inside them; cellar workers often wore iron masks, somewhat like catcher’s masks, to protect their faces from exploding bottles.)
To add insult to injury (if you’re French), the truth is that the process of inducing a secondary fermentation in wine to add bubbles was actually first documented by an Englishman, Dr. Christopher Merret, in 1662. Admittedly, it’s a little hard to imagine blinged-out nightclub goers popping corks on super-pricey bottles of something called “Christopher Merret” - Dom Pérignon is probably safe there - but in honor of the estimable Dr. Merret and his invention, here are a few terrific (and affordable) sparkling wines for the late summer. August 4 may not really have been the birthdate of Champagne, but it’s still a perfectly good day for drinking anything involving bubbles.