During the holiday season more bottles of Champagne will be opened than any other time of the year. And, why not? After all, it is the perfect celebratory drink – the festive bubbles sparkle in the glow of holiday lights as they rise to the top of the glass and burst, releasing the wine’s enticing aromas, millions of tiny explosions tickling your nose as you take a sip. Champagne bubbles are like no other bubbles. They’re fine, elegant, and rich, and create an unforgettable sensation in your mouth that’s bound to bring a smile to your lips. So, raise a toast to bubbles this holiday season.
10 Facts About Champagne Bubbles
2. The bubbles in Champagne are formed during a second fermentation that takes place in the very bottle in which you purchase the wine. This method of sparkling wine production is called the traditional method, or methode traditionelle. Very simply, after the initial fermentation is complete, the still wine, or vin clair, is bottled and a liqueur de tirage, a solution of sugar, yeast, and nutrients, is added. A crown cap is placed on the bottle and the yeast proceeds to devour the sugar, creating alcohol, heat, and carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide cannot escape from the sealed bottle, so it is dissolved in the wine until the bottle is opened. Once opened, the carbon dioxide forms tiny, elegant bubbles.
3. Dom Perignon is often credited as being the creator of sparkling Champagne, and while this is a great marketing gimmick, the truth is that the talented Benedictine Monk spent much of his time trying to eradicate bubbles from his precious wine, as he believed sparkling wine was the drink of immoral people, and that bubbles were a fault. Dom Perignon did, however, put many practices into place in the vineyard and the winery that increased the quality and reputation of the wine from the Champagne region, and he developed a process which enabled him to make high quality white wine from red grapes. Many of Perignon’s developments are still used today.
(NOTE: Yeasts were not yet understood at the time, so when fermentation stopped due to the cold winter weather in Champagne, it was believed that it was complete. In the springtime, when the temperatures warmed up, fermentation would start again, sometimes after the wine had already been shipped and/or bottled, forming bubbles in the wine.)
4. The English were the largest importers of the wines of the Champagne region in the 17th century, and they grew fond of the accidental bubbles. Documents have shown that it was most likely the English who actually made the first deliberately sparkling wine. In 1662, an Englishman named Christopher Merret wrote an article for the Royal Society about how adding sugar to a finished wine would make it sparkle. Incidentally, this was 6 years before Dom Perignon even arrived at the monastery at Hautvillers, where he is said to have ‘invented’ Champagne.
5. The pressure inside a bottle of unopened Champagne is around 6 atmospheres. That’s about 3 times the pressure inside a car tire, and about the same as the pressure inside the tire of a double-decker bus. This explains why Champagne bottles and corks are thicker than most. In 2008, Friedrich Balck, a German scientist, measured the speed of a cork as it left a vigorously shaken bottle of Champagne at 40 km an hour.
6. The glass in which Champagne is served has a huge impact on how the bubbles behave and feel in the mouth. Cooling the glass will weaken the bubbles, and any grease on the glass will simply destroy them. Tall, thin glasses seem to be the best bubble savers, and ones that are tulip-shaped will help trap the aromas at the top of the glass.
7. Bubbles transport the aromas and flavours of the wine to the surface with them, so there is no need to swirl a glass of sparkling wine as we do with a glass of still wine. Swirling the glass will only make the bubbles disappear faster.
8. The bubbles form on specific points on the sides of the glass. These points can be impurities in the glass or particles left in the glass by the polishing cloth. Some Champagne glasses even have tiny scratches etched into the bottom to help bubbles form. The bubbles hold on to these points as they grow, and once they are large enough, they are released, forming elegant pearl-like strings rising to the top of the glass.
9. Carbon dioxide dissolves into cooler liquids more easily than warmer ones. This explains why room temperature Champagne will foam so easily when opened. Vigorously shaking a bottle of Champagne before opening will quickly mix small bubbles of carbon dioxide into the liquid. When the bottle is opened, the difference in pressure causes the bubbles to grown rapidly and the Champagne bursts out, wasting a great deal of perfectly good Champagne. Ideally, Champagne should be served at 8° to 10°C and shaking the bottle should be avoided.
10. The carbon dioxide in a bottle of Champagne will help keep the cork moist so there is no need to store Champagne on its side like you do with bottles of still wine with natural cork. This has its benefits because the wine will not have contact with the cork, reducing the risk of cork taint.