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4 Things You Should Know About Champagne Bubbles

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fluteDo you taste champagne? We follow the same approach (visual, olfactory, and gustatory) for any wine, taking into account the peculiarity that characterizes this particular one: the bubble!

In this article, I will share with you everything you need to know about Champagne bubble: its origin, how to understand it, how it affects (or not) the quality of Champagne … through four steps.

Above all, I thank Gérard Liger-Belair a physicist as well as a specialist in bubbles and author of the excellent book « Effervescence, the Science of Champagne« . He kindly agreed to read the contents of this article, and most of the illustrations are taken from his book.

Step 1: Understand How Champagne was born

Remember that alcohol comes from the fermentation of sugar by the action of yeast, and that this reaction is accompanied by a release of C02:

Sugar -> C02 + alcohol

This is the basis, through which alcohol is born in this transformation of sugar, the sugar comes from grapes (for wine), malted barley (for beer), potatoes, pears, apples, sugar cane, etc…

Following the fermentation of grape sugar, we obtain a still white wine, that is to say non-effervescent (C02 escapes from open tanks).

Now, for the Champagne, we assemble various vintages of wines from different grape varieties and years.

Then added sugar and yeast (this is called sugar dosage), we then carry out a second fermentation accompanied by the release of C02.

Except that this time, the corked bottles do not allow carbon dioxide to escape. The gas dissolves in the bottle during the fermentation.

The more gas dissolved in the Champagne, the greater the pressure under the cork. Logical, right? This is called Henry’s Law.

Then the Champagne is left in contact with the dead yeast from the fermentation for several years. This is called aging on lees (lees are dead yeast from the fermentation). Yeasts is somewhat digested by Champagne (a phenomenon called autolysis), which transmits toasted flavors such as almond and hazel associated with champagne.

That’s why Champagne is aged on lees for a long period (such as vintage champagne or great vintages) in order to develop these types of flavours.

bottles

The bottles are then inclined downwardly (riddling) then disgorged (that is to say opened to expel yeast sediment). Wine expelled by disgorging is supplemented by a small amount of « liqueur d’expédition » (which is actually wine with sugar). The sweetness of this liqueur will determine if champagne is brut(or extra brut when it is not dosed in specific measure), or dry, semi-dry or sweet.

Step 2: Understand how the bubble is created

So champagne has a high concentration of C02 after the second fermentation in the bottle. At the opening of the bottle, the pressure of the gas trapped under the cap (originally 6 bar) drops sharply.

Now, remember, Henry’s Law wants to establish a balance between the pressure inside the bottle and the external pressure (in contact with the liquid). The gas trapped in the cylinder will therefore seek to escape to restore the balance. Where there is an explosion of bubbles … the amount of gas is even more important if the bottle has been shaken, because it tends to mix carbon dioxide in the Champagne .., resulting in the characteristic pop when opened.

In short, once opened, the gas escapes, partly in the form of bubbles and also invisible on the glass surface.

Life and death of a bubble… It is due to small impurities present on the walls of glass that bubbles form. In fact, these small impurities trap a little air. When the champagne is poured into the glass, the carbon dioxide enters the small pockets of gas trapped in impurities, which creates a bubble.

The bubble is not born out of nothing: it needs the pocket of gas, called a nucleation site, so that the gas molecules grow and have enough energy to rise up to the liquid surface.

In short, this is due to impurities that create bubbles. After a while, all these small gas pockets are emptied of their gas bubble formation and there is a gradual disappearance of bubbles. (This does not prevent the gas from escaping to the glass surface, but it does so without creating bubbles).

In the pictures you can see the birth of a bubble of champagne from a particle, which is the nucleation site.

bubbles

Step 3: Understand what determines the size of the bubble

Bubble size and their frequency is a function of the size of impurities. Intuitively, the larger the impurity, the more it traps gas, and the bigger the bubble created. After a moment, the site’s bubbling is exhausted (because it traps more gas and the bubbling stops).

If you wipe your glass with a rough cloth leaving many cellulose fibers, there is no doubt there will be more bubbles!

The size of the bubble is a function of the carbon dioxide gas content of the Champagne. The more dissolved C02 is the larger and more numerous the bubbles. For example, in beer the bubble is thinner because there is less dissolved gas (yes, look properly!).

In your champagne glass, the bubble is also thinner after a few minutes after pouring. This is logical. There is more gas in the beginning, so a greater and larger amount of bubbles. Then, the gas dissipates, and the bubble becomes thinner.

drop

It is sometimes said that the size of the bubble of champagne is an indicator of quality … this is wrong, it is rather an indicator of the amount of gas. But it is true that there is less gas in old champagne, because some of the gas has dissipated. This effectively creates a correlation between old champagne and fine bubbles.

Step 4: Understand the importance of glass

Flute, cup, plastic cup or…? The large surface area of the cup has the disadvantage of rapid diffusion of Champagne gas. It is more difficult to observe the formation of bubbles in the cup. It’s flared shape does not allow it to concentrate flavors, unlike the flute or tulip glass.

Therefore opt for the flute!

Incidentally, have you seen the roughness of champagne bubbles in a plastic cup? They do not have the finesse of the bubbles created in the champagne flute. Why is this?

Well, the plastic material of the cup is said hydrophobic: as its name suggests, it does not like water, and prefers gas. In other words the wrong champagne badly wets the walls of the cup. Instead of escaping to the surface of the glass, the bubbles will have a tendency to cling to the glass. They must be large enough to rise to the surface.

Moreover, this phenomenon can also happen with a classic flute: If your flute is a little dirty, contaminated with organic particles from the air, it can showcase the hydrophobic behavior reminiscent of the plastic cup.

I hope this article helped you understand the science of champagne bubbles.

Are you fond of bubbles? What are your favorite sparkling drinks?

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One Comment

  1. I am not sure where you are getting your info, but good topic.

    I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more.

    Thanks for wonderful information I was looking for this information for my
    mission.

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