According to the Guinness Book of Records, the longest distance a cork has flown from an untreated, unheated Champagne bottle is 54.18 metres. The previous record was beaten at Woodbury Winery and Cellars, in New York state, on June 5 1988, by Professor Emeritus Heinrich Medicus.
The tallest Champagne fountain was built – where else? – in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace, required 23,642 traditional long-stemmed glasses and rose 47 glass storeys – 7.85 m/25 ft 9 in. And the Champagne? That was Moet & Chandon.
The highest price ever paid for a wine at auction was the 105,000 paid at Christie’s in London for a 1787 “Jefferson” Chateau Lafite whose bottle was engraved with the US President’s initials and is supposed to have been bought by him while he was serving as a diplomat in France. In November 1986, 11 months after the sale, the cork, dried out by the exhibition lights, sipped into the bottle, allowing its contents to become, in their turn, the world’s most expensive bottle of old vinegar.
A similarly impressive sum – Fr8,600 – was paid for another Guinness record-holder, a glass of 1993 Beaujolais Nouveau which was auctioned for charity in the cellar of Pickwick’s pub in Beaune within hours of its first release to the market.
A wine whose label declares its vintage to be 1985 could have been made from grapes which were picked in 1986. “Eiswein” is a German and Austrian style made from grapes that have been left to freeze on the vine. Sometimes, the wine-growers have to wait so long for the necessary severe frost that they do not harvest the grapes until January, three or four months after the grapes for more conventional wines have been picked.
A teaspoon suspended in an opened bottle of Champagne will help it to keep its fizz. Even the experts at Moet & Chandon admit that they are foxed as to why this works – but it does.
Mikhail Gorbachev was an enemy of wine who introduced a scheme to uproot vineyards in several regions of the former Soviet Union, as part of a campaign to combat that alcoholism that costs tens of thousands of lives per year. During the heyday of the Communist regime, however, wine was shipped from one republic to another, sometimes swapped litre-for-litre for petrol.
In the US, the label of every wine sold has to be approved by the authorities – which explains why, on occasion, wines from such illustrious producers as Chateau Mouton Rothschild have been outlawed because their labels were thought to be too sexy.
Spain has the largest area of vineyards in the world – but ranks only third in terms of production; low rainfall makes for low yields per vine. Similarly, Spain’s Airen, one of the most unmemorable grape varieties, is still the most widely planted, though again production is, thank goodness, relatively small.
The international success of Australia’s wines in the 1980s and 1990s was so great that exports rose in the decade or so up to 1994 from around 10 million bottles to nearly 150 million.
China and Taiwan increased their vineyards from 34,000 ha (84,000 acres) in the early 1980s to 168,000 ha (415,000 acres) in 1993. With an annual production of around 500 million bottles, they now account for over 1 per cent of the world’s wine harvest.
One American wine company – E & J Gallo – produces more wine each year than the whole of Champagne.
White grapes have to be used in red Chianti. Not because they improve its flavour, but because this bit of Tuscany has a surplus of white grapevines. The obligatory dose in Chianti Classico is so small, however, at 2-5 per cent, that the law cannot be enforced. Wine-growers in Hermitage in the Rhone and in Rioja in Spain, however, can voluntarily choose to put some white grapes in their red wine.
A cooper coin can remove a nasty smell from a wine. If the wine smells like rotten eggs, the chances are that some of the sulphur dioxide used in its preparation has turned into hydrogen sulphide. Immersing a copper coin will convert it into copper sulphate, leaving the wine smelling fine.
Salt and white wine can both stop red wine from staining. Even a deeply coloured wine, such as Barolo, should leave no stain if you dollop on a generous pile of salt, or a splash of white wine, as soon as the wine is spilled.
A peach immersed in Champagne (actually, in any sparkling wine) will soon begin to spin round and round of its own accord. The trick requires rather a large glass – but a smaller downy or hairy fruit (the hairs trap the bubbles), such as a kiwi or gooseberry, will perform to equally entertaining effect. Similarly, a raisin will “swim” up and down the bubble stream of sparkling wine.