Many of you opened some bubbly over the holidays but have you ever wondered how it’s made? The process is laborious, especially for Champagne or sparkling wines made in the traditional method.
When grape juice is fermented and becomes wine, carbon dioxide is created and allowed to disperse. If fermentation takes place in a sealed container (i.e. a bottle) and the gas is not allowed to escape, pressure builds up and the wine absorbs the carbon dioxide where it stays dissolved until released resulting in bubbles in your glass. The pressure in sparkling wine is typically 70 – 90 psi or about the tire pressure of a double decker bus! This pressure demands a thick glass bottle and a cork that becomes mushroom shaped (due to pressure) with a wire cage on it.
Champagne starts with base wine: a still wine utilizing white wine grapes that have high acid and low alcohol. The winemaker adds yeast and sugar to this base wine to initiate a second fermentation in the bottle. The bottle is immediately capped and the wine is aged on its lees (dead yeast cells and solids). Some of the lees dissolve and are absorbed into the wine. After aging, the sediment is removed. The wine is quickly topped off with base wine and sugar and resealed for sale. Many new world and European producers use this traditional method but are not allowed to label as Champagne since the wine is not from the Champagne region in France. Spanish Cava is produced using the traditional method. Italian Prosecco is produced using a method called Charmat or Tank method.
Once opened, a bottle of champagne has approximately 56 million bubbles. Finer wine will have smaller bubbles due to longer aging and cooler aging cellar temperatures.
Something to ponder the next time you pop a cork and share some bubbly with friends.
Have you ever wondered about the shapes of wine bottles? Are they shaped differently for a reason or is it just random artistry? As is often the case in wine, tradition is the major player for the different bottle shapes. I touched on this subject a few years ago in my blog with a graphic but let’s look at it with a bit more detail. There are four main types:
Bordeaux bottles have high shoulders with straight sides for wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. The high shoulders were created to help trap sediment due to prominent tannins in most of these wines. These bottles are made of thick glass with a high punt (the punt is the indentation on the bottom of the bottle).
Burgundy bottles are tall and wide with sloping shoulders for wines like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chablis and Pinot Gris. Much like Bordeaux bottles, these are made of thick glass. Purportedly, Burgundy bottles were the first to be created and the sloping shoulders made for easy stacking as well as achievability for glass blowers.
Champagne bottles are wide with low shoulders for wines like Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco. These bottles were created out of necessity due to the pressure inside the bottles (roughly 70-90 psi). They are made of thick glass, have a high punt and low shoulders to contain the immense pressure inside the bottles. By the way, the thick corks and cages securing them are no mistake either.
German/Alsatian bottles are narrow and tall with gentle sloping shoulders for wines like Riesling and Gewürztraminer. The slender shape and lighter weight of these bottles were made for convenient stowing on ships during their voyage along trade routes in the early years.
This may just be extra wine knowledge fodder in your head but it may make it easier to spot the type of wine you’re looking for in the wine shop. As I mentioned a few years ago when I first wrote about the subject, that could mean scoring that last bottle of prize vintage Bordeaux.