Earlier this week, Paul Vernon was swiping a blue cloth over a shelf of dusty wine bottles. In the collection of more than 2,500 bottles in his shop on Ninth Street are at least 35 types of Champagne and sparkling wine bottles.
Champagne and sparkling wine are best-sellers at Top Ten Wines this time of year, Vernon said.
“Eighty percent of Champagne and sparkling wine I sell between October and the end of the year,” he said. “Ten percent I sell for graduation in May. And 10 percent for the rest of the year.”
According to the Wine Institute, 13.4 million cases of sparkling wine were consumed in the United States in 2008. That’s more than 161 million bottles of bubbly.
Champagne and other bubbly beverages have long been used as a means of celebration because of their connection to the christening of boats and planes.
Since the early 1900s, a bottle of Champagne has been smashed on the bow of a ship or airplane at launching, according to writer Kolleen M. Guy in "When Champagne Became French."
Champagne became associated with luxury and high class, purchased for special occasions such as weddings and anniversaries.
But this sparkling wine was not always so popular. Bubbles in wine were initially considered a fault among northern French vintners in the early 17th century.
The formula of yeast and sugar added to grape juice created a byproduct of alcohol and carbon dioxide. If the wine was sealed in the bottle, the carbon dioxide was not allowed to dissipate, thus creating bubbles.
The pressure from carbon dioxide gas inside the weak, early French wine bottles tended to build and make them explode, creating chaos in wine cellars.
Despite the initial scare of exploding wine bottles, Champagne became popular among French and British nobility in the early 18th century. But it wasn’t until the 19th century that vintners learned to control the technique of making their wines sparkle on purpose and create strong enough bottles to withstand the pressure, according to The Oxford Companion to Wine.
Since then, Champagne- and sparkling wine-producing techniques have been perfected to the point that fizzy wine can be an expensive delicacy to drink on special occasions. A bottle of Laurent Perrier Rose Champagne is marketed for more than $600 on finestwine.com.
There are, however, plenty of Champagnes that cost less than $600 a pop. At Top Ten Wines, Vernon said customers can find good Champagne for $50 to $60 and other sparkling wines for as low as $15.
Prosecco, an Italian sparkling white wine, has become more popular.
"I like Cava," he said of the Spanish sparkling wine in stock at Top Ten Wines.
For nine years, Janie Bonham and her husband have been buying Champagne for New Year's Eve.
On Wednesday, Bonham bought of five bottles of wine and one bottle of Champagne. This year they tried something new: the Barnaut Grand Cru Champagne that Vernon recommended.
“We’re not partiers,” Bonham said, laughing a little. “We just do this at home quietly.”
Sparkling wine is generally lower in alcohol content, about 11.5 percent to 14 percent, Vernon said.
He took a swig of Cava from a wine flute.
“You can have a couple of glasses of Champagne without feeling light-headed.”