The connection between Dom Pérignon and the pioneering Benedictine monk from which it takes its name is not as simple as is often stated.
Although he is sometimes credited with it, Pierre Pérignon (the ‘Dom’ is an honorific, derived from Dominus, for monks from the order) was not responsible for the creation of sparkling wine. Indeed, he did not deal primarily with the production of sparkling wine. Nevertheless, he certainly played an important role in improving the quality of Champagne wine, in an era when the region’s wines were still predominantly red. Pérignon (who died in 1715) was the cellar master at the abbey in Hautvillers and was responsible for a number of innovations in winemaking techniques. In the years that followed his death – and as sparkling wine became the main style of production in Champagne – various embellishments and exaggerations came to be added to his already significant contributions. So when the first prestige cuvée, or ‘premium label’, champagne came to be created, it was given Pérignon’s name. The first vintage of Dom Pérignon was 1921 and was only released for sale in 1936. The first buyers were 150 customers of Simon Bros & Co, the company that imported Moët in the United Kingdom, which ordered the first 300 bottles. The wine got immediate attention in the marketplace and 100 boxes were shipped to the United States shortly afterwards. Among the buyers was billionaire James Buchanan Duke who ordered 100 bottles for himself, 17 of which were auctioned in 2004, after his daughter had kept them in her cellar. The drink is always a vintage Champagne, meaning that it is not made in weak years, and all grapes used to make it are harvested in the same year. It is always a combination of Pinot noir and Chardonnay grapes, although the final composition changes with every vintage: at times a blend in perfectly equal proportions, at times up to 60% Chardonnay or 60% Pinot noir. In 1970, it went over 60%, with 65% Chardonnay. What has remained unchanged is the brand’s association with luxury, expense and elegance. It was drunk at the wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Prince Charles in 1981. A decade earlier, the Shah of Iran ordered several bottles of the very first Dom Pérignon Rosé, to celebrate the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire.