10 Fun Facts About Champagne Bubbles

Bubbles in ChampagneDuring 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

1. One bottle of Champagne contains approximately 47 million separate bubbles.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 theStatue of Dom Perignon outside Moet & Chandon in Epernay 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.

Popping Champagne cork5. 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 Flutes of Champagnethe 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.

A Tasting of Veuve Clicquot Champagne with Dominique Demarville

Pouring Veuve ClicquotThe Champagne house Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin has had a long and fascinating history.  Founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot, it began primarily as a banking and textile company that only dabbled in the Champagne trade.  When Philippe’s son, Francois, became head of the company, focus switched more to Champagne. In 1805 Francois Clicquot passed away, leaving his young widow, Nicole-Barbe Clicquot Ponsardin, to take the reins.  Not only did Veuve (Widow) Nicole-Barbe run the company with great skill, she turned the house into one of the most famous and prestigious grande marques ever.  Nicole-Barbe also transformed the way Champagne was made when she created the first riddling table, enabling the production of crystal clear wines.  Veuve Clicquot also produced the very first vintage Champagne in 1810.

I’ve been intrigued with the story of Veuve ever since reading Tilar J. Mazzeo’s book, The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It, and I have enjoyed Veuve Champagne for some time, so I was thrilled when I got the opportunity to have a one-on-one tasting with Veuve’s current winemaker, Dominique Demarville.

Dominique Demarville, Cellar Master

Dominique Demarville became the 10th Cellar Master of Veuve Clicquot on June 1st 2009 after being Deputy Cellar Master since 2006.  Dominique Demarville, Veuve Clicquot Cellar MasterHe began his career in wine 26 years ago when he harvested grapes in Champagne as a summer job.  He realized his passion for wine that summer, leading him to earn a technical degree in oenology and viticulture at Lycée Viticole de la Champagne, and a degree in oenology at the University of Burgundy. He worked in several French wine regions before finally settling in Champagne, where he worked at several different Champagne houses before taking a position at Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. He’s a very charming and personable man, with sharp blue eyes and incredible passion for his work.  Once I got over my initial feeling of  giddiness after meeting M. Demarville, I was able to concentrate as he lead me through a tasting of 5 remarkable Veuve Clicquot Champagnes.

The Wines

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne

Veuve Clicquot Brut Non VintageVeuve Clicquot Brut Non Vintage

Typical of Veuve Clicquot wines, Pinot Noir is dominant.  The blend is 50 to 55% Pinot Noir, 28 to 35% Chardonnay, and 15 to 20% Pinot Meunier.  Between 25 and 40% of the wine is made up of reserve wines, which help to maintain consistency of the house style.  The winemakers have 17 years of reserve wines to draw on when creating the blend, the oldest being from 1988.  The over 400 different reserve wines are not yet blended and are stored by cru and by grape variety.  These still wines remain on their lees to help prevent oxidation, and M. Demarville stated that it is the reserve wines that contribute the distinctive brioche flavour to the final blend.

Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label has a golden yellow colour with aromas of ripe apples, peaches, quince, and white blossoms.  The mousse is  creamy and persistent, and the palate shows flavours of brioche, vanilla, crisp citrus, yellow fruit, and a toasty finish.  Pair with lobster risotto or mushroom quiche. (LCBO $66.25)

Veuve Clicquot Rose Non VintageVeuve Clicquot Rosé Non Vintage

The blend is very similar to the Brut Yellow Label with 50 to 55% Pinot Noir, 28 to 33% Chardonnay, and 15 to 20% Pinot Meunier, and again 20 to 35% is reserve wines.  The difference is the addition of about 12% still red wine, which is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, giving a pretty pink colour and berry flavours.

The Rosé Non Vintage is a light pink colour with aromas of wild red berry, cherry pie, toast, and brioche.  Powerful, yet elegant, this wine is creamy and concentrated, ending with a long delicious finish.  Pair this wine with with shellfish, caviar, or smoked salmon.

Veuve Clicquot Vintage Reserve Brut 2002Veuve Clicquot Vintage Brut 2002

Made only in exceptional years, M. Demarville says the vintage wines “must show the gift of nature.”  The Vintage 2002 is comprised of 60% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, and 7% Pinot Meunier.  The grapes come from 17 vineyards, all of which are classified as either Grands Crus or Premier Crus.  This wine was disgorged in 2009 after having spent 6 years on the lees.

A sparkling pale yellow colour, intensely aromatic and concentrated, this wine exhibits citrus and mandarine aromas, with a very floral character.  A lively and generous mousse with brioche, creamy vanilla, minerals, spice, and crisp citrus flavours, and a long toasty finish.  A stunning wine.  Pair with stewed rabbit or a mild vegetable curry. (LCBO Vintages, $88.95)

Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rose 2004Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rosé 2004

The Vintage Rosé 2004 is a blend of 62% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 8% Pinot Meunier.  There is also an addition of 15% still red Pinot Noir from Bouzy vineyards.  The blend is made up of approximately 20 Grands and Premier Crus vineyards.  It was aged 5 years on the lees and was disgorged in 2010.  The 2004 vintage is lighter and leaner than 2002, but has excellent aging potential.  M. Demarville suggests it could age at least 20 years.

A coppery pink colour  with pronounced ripe red fruit, floral, and pastry aromas.  There is a zesty acidity and a very long length.  Juicy and delicious.  Pair with roasted turkey or beef carpaccio. (LCBO Vintages, $94.95)

Veuve Clicquot Demi-SecVeuve Clicquot Demi-Sec Non Vintage

This is a more “traditional” Champagne as it is sweeter in style (it wasn’t until relatively recently that the trend has moved towards drier versions).  Pinot Noir is again dominant at 40 to 45% of the blend, lending structure and power to the wine.  A higher percentage of Pinot Meunier than other Veuve Champagnes (30 to 35%) gives exotic fruit and floral notes.  Chardonnay makes up 20 to 25%, contributing freshness and delicacy. About 20 to 30% reserve wine is added and the final wine has 45 g/l of sugar.

This wine has rich notes of honey, brioche, toast, and sweet yellow stone fruit, with a round and luxurious texture.  The crisp burst of acidity nicely balances the higher sugar levels in this wine.  Great to pair with desserts at the end of your holiday meal.  Try it with Panna Cotta, dried fruit with a custard sauce, or chocolate covered strawberries. (LCBO, $69.55)

One-on-One with Dominique Demarville

Gosset Champagne is Grand Champagne

Champagne GossetI love Champagne, and since today is the  Second Annual Champagne Day (really, it is!), I thought it would be appropriate to write a blog post in honour of Champagne, which in my opinion, is one of the world’s greatest inventions. And, yesterday at Halpern’s biennial Grand Cru event, I was able to try 3 astonishingly good Champagnes from Gosset.

Gosset is the oldest producer of wine in Champagne, founded in 1584 by Pierre Gosset who made mostly still red wine from Pinot Noir – they didn’t begin making sparkling wine until 2 centuries later.  The house was purchased in 1993 by the Cointreau family after Albert Gosset passed away, but the hands-on approach that was started by the Gosset family has been retained by the new owners.

Gosset produces over one million bottles a year.  In order to preserve acidity and help keep the wines fresh for much longer, malolactic fermentation is avoided.  The wines are made almost entirely of hand-harvested Premier Cru and Grand Cru grapes, and only the first pressings of the grapes are used.  All Gosset Champagnes are riddled by hand.  In addition to the 3 wines written about below, Gosset also makes an entry level Excellence Brut (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier), the Grand Reserve Brut (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier), and the Celebris portfolio which includes a Blanc de Blancs, Rosé 2003, and Vintage 1998.

The three wines being poured at Grand Cru were Grand Blanc de Blancs NV, Grand Millésime 2000, and Grand Rosé Brut NV.  All three were stunning.  Unfortunately none of these wines are currently available at the LCBO or Vintages, but you can order them through Halpern Wine Enterprises.

Tasting Notes:

Grand Blanc de Blancs NV:  This brand new wine in Gosset’s portfolio is being released for the first time this fall.  Made with the finest grapes from 15 villages, this wine was aged 5 years on the lees.  It’s a blend of wines from 2003, 2004, and 2005, and is 100% Chardonnay.  This wine is a medium golden yellow colour with aromas of yellow fruit, lemon citrus, white flowers, mineral, and autolytic notes of bread and yeast.  A very generous mousse and creamy mouthfeel with vibrant acidity and a long finish. (Approx. $88)

Grand Millésime 2000:  A blend of 57% Chardonnay and 43% Pinot Noir, and aged on the lees for 10 years.  It was disgorged in April 2011.  A deeper golden yellow than the Blanc de Blancs with pronounced and complex aromas of roasted hazelnut, bruised apple, baking spice, honeyed stone fruit, and buttered brioche.  Round and full-bodied with a luxurious mouthfeel,  lively acidity and a persistent finish. (Approx. $94)

Grand Rosé Brut:  Made from 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir including 7% still red Pinot Noir added.  A pretty onion skin colour with aromas of crisp red berries, pink grapefruit, freshly cut pumpkin, gingerbread, nutmeg, spring blossoms, and minerals.  Full and creamy on the palate with a lively mousse and a lovely lingering finish.  (Approx. $85)

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