Champagne (and sparkling wine) has long been associated with celebration, romance, and the finer things in life. Whether you are planning a party for one hundred of your closest friends or wish to share a special evening with your spouse, the tingle of champagne bubbles will enhance any occasion. Yet, few of us understand the science inside those little bubbles; since its the bubbles that separate regular wine from champagne, learning more about how those bubbles get into each bottle can be fascinating.
All Champagne and Sparkling Wine Begins on the Vine
As with the production of regular wine, champagne production begins with one or more types of grapes harvested at perfect ripeness. Depending on the type and quality of the final product, grape varieties will be selected to produce white, pink, and occasionally red champagnes ranging from dry to sweet. After the first fermentation process is complete, these wines require a second fermentation to become the bubbly, sparkling beverage many of you enjoy.
Three methods are available to transform wine into champagne, although technically only one will produce genuine champagne, while the other two methods produce sparkling wine (for technical purposes, the terms champagne and sparkling wine are often interchangeable, but for true champagne enthusiasts, the distinction may be of importance).
True Champagnes are Aged for Long Periods of Time
To receive classification as true champagne, the slow, traditional method of fermenting fine wine into its bubbly cousin by adding additional yeast and sugar to the wine must take place in the French city of Champagne itself, where bottles are stored for at least 15 months to allow the natural fermentation process plenty of time to develop bubbles that last a long time after the bottle is opened. During the second fermentation period, the bottles are slowly turned upside down to allow the fermentation residue to settle in the neck of the bottles. After a brief freezing which forces the residue out of the bottles, one more dosage of yeast and sugar is added to each bottle which is then corked, caged, and allowed to ferment for many more months or even years for some of the finest champagne varieties.
Simpler Methods Produce Bubbles at a Lower Cost
The tank method, while technically producing sparkling wine as opposed to champagne, allows the wine to undergo a second fermentation with the addition of yeast and sugar in a large pressurized tank as opposed to individual bottles. Since the bubbly, sparkling wine is bottled under pressure, the bubbles remain in tact until the bottle is opened and enjoyed, producing a similar experience as their more expensive champagne relatives at a more affordable cost.
The lowest priced sparkling wines are produced with the bicycle pump method. This entire process is completed under pressure in the same manner used to produce carbonated sodas. Carbon dioxide is the gaseous agent that allows the bubbles to liven up traditional wine varieties, and although these bubbles won’t last as long as those produced with the previous two methods, in many situations, that bubbly treat will disappear into the mouths of those enjoying the celebration at hand before they have time to escape.
There is a Perfect Champagne or Sparkling Wine Variety for Every Occasion
Regardless of whether you wish to share sparkling wine varieties produced with carbon dioxide for a large group of people or are celebrating a very special evening that calls for only the finest true champagne imported directly from France, the large number of champagne and sparkling wine products available allow everyone the opportunity to enjoy simple elegance any time of the year.