Where do the bubbles in champagne come from?
To answer this question, you must first know that the wines of champagne, which have been produced since at least the 5th century, have not always had bubbles. The technique of sparkling champagne was not mastered until the end of the 17th century!
Legend has it that Dom Pierre Pérignon, a cellarer monk at Hautvillers Abbey from 1668 until he died in 1715, invented champagne as we know it today. In reality, this is not the case (pun intended). But he did invent the art of selecting specific grapes from different origins before pressing them. This results in better-balanced wines.
Sparkling Champagne is a happy byproduct from the desire to understand and master a natural phenomenon. Champagne is a northern vineyard with a harsh climate for the vine. In the 17th century, the grape harvest took place quite late, in October. For this reason, the yeasts of the grape did not have time to finish fermenting when the winter cold came, blocking their action. But in the spring, when the wine was bottled, they came back to life. The carbonic gas could not escape during this second fermentation, so the bubbles appeared. In fact, the wine fizzing was so extreme the bottles initially could explode from the pressure.
For a long time, the limited scientific understanding of fermentation was not possible. Thanks to the work of François, Maumené, Chaptal, and Pasteur, we finally understood the importance of yeasts and the contribution of sugar dosage during bottling. They also learned to measure the pressure inside the bottles. To these pioneers, we owe the Champagne method, which is now famous today for its rigor and excellence.
So, as you can see, the bottles themselves are a fundamental tool for creating the iconic bubbles. Let's take a closer look.
Alcoholic fermentation occurs when the yeast consumes sugar and releases carbon dioxide as a result of the reaction. Other compounds are also released, creating a wine's aroma. Now, based on how the wine is fermented, there are two possible results. If the wine is aged in vats or barrels, the gas escapes, creating still wines. If the wine is bottled, the carbonic gas from the fermentation remains trapped in the bottle. This is known as foam grip.
In order for carbonic gas to be released inside the bottle, it is vital that the bottle can withstand the pressure. You will notice that the glass of champagne bottles is much thicker than that of still wine bottles. This is to withstand the pressure, which is from 5 to 6 kilograms per square centimeter.
The glass is also important because of its shape and the presence of micro-apertures, which allow the formation of bubbles. Micro-apertures retain micro-bubbles that gradually grow and detach to form a train of bubbles that move to the surface of the wine, up to 50 per second. This means it is important to use a glass with a large base to let them form.
The cap also needs specific attention. It must be made of cork and reinforced by a wire and a wire plate, an invention patented in 1844 by Adolphe Jacquesson, a merchant in Chalons en Champagne.
Before we finish today, let’s take a look at the effects of bubbles on flavour...
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