Drinking champagne is as much a cultural phenomenon as a culinary one. We celebrate grand openings, graduations and marriages by popping the cork on a quality champagne, and we also enjoy a creamy brut champagne paired with our favorite appetizer perhaps almost as much as the overarching occasion.
Bubbles in Champagne
Often colloquially referred to as “bubbly,” the bubbles in champagne actually have a lot to do with the popularity of, say, a brut over a doux champagne.
Although today we can dine over a Krug or Laurent-Perrier brut without worrying about much of anything, this wasn’t always the case.
Champagne was once called the devil’s wine because of its propensity to spontaneously explode – sometime causing a chain reaction in fermenting cellars.
In fact, the famous 17th-century champagne trailblazer, Dom Perignon, was commissioned to remove the bubbles from the champagnes in his cellar.
Even two centuries after Dom Perignon, it wasn’t uncommon to lose half of your fermenting inventory to exploding bottles of especially bubbly champagne.
Less is More
Champagne enthusiasts claim that the smaller the bubbles, the better the champagne. The thinking goes that when you have smaller bubbles in the same size glass, then there are more total bubbles on hand to deliver a full-bodied taste and richer aroma.
The actual bubbles in champagne are created through the secondary fermentation process that sparkling wine undergoes to eventually become champagne.
Though this secondary fermentation process, the sparkling wine becomes champagne and, in the same process, gets carbonated. Carbonation, or the infusion of carbon dioxide into champagne, is what makes champagne and soda alike fizzy or effervescent.
Unlike soda, though, champagne is created by taking select pinot noir and chardonnay grapes plucked from orchards in the Champagne region of France to ultimately deliver a creamy champagne tasting experience.
Research on Champagne’s Carbonation
Although both soda and champagne, for all of their differences, each has an appreciable level of “fizzy” or carbonation, the carbonation is created in different ways for each beverage.
Champagne gets its bubbles and carbonated quality in a more hard-won way through secondary fermentation whereas soda gets its bubbles through an artificial process of a carbon dioxide injection.
In an interesting twist, though, research shows that the diffusion of carbon dioxide in sparkling wine and champagne are reasonably similar – much more similar than one would suppose given that champagne has smaller and more tightly packed bubbles.
It’s subsequently been shown that, although the amount of carbonation wrought by secondary fermentation has a lot to do with champagne’s fizziness, the bubbles in champagne are largely attributable to other causes.
It’s now believed that elemental minerals and naturally-occuring salts create more of champagne’s bubbles than was previously acknowledged (or understood) centuries ago.
Science Behind Champagne’s Bubbles
Secondary fermentation and carbonation are fundamentally chemical processes that provide a real-world and visceral payoff for those of use who enjoy champagne.
One of the pleasures of champagne, if we’re going to be frank, is watching the tiny bubbles make their way up to the top of the glass and anticipating that first taste.
As these tiny bubbles make their brave trek up to the top of the glass, the bubbles themselves are transporting flavors and scents up the glass – and, hopefully, towards our parched mouths.
We almost automatically correlate a great tasting champagne with an explosion of bubbles at the top of our glass because more tiny bubbles means that more flavor and scents are traveling up the glass.
This spectacle, in the end, is half the battle when it comes to creating a creamy yet dry and savory champagne.