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Champagne: Bubbles Born in a Bottle
Sparkling wine is crafted using the same method as the world’s most famous beverage: champagne. Check out our guide to the complex process behind the pop!
The unmistakable pop of the cork, the fizz that gently tickles the palate, the tiny bubbles of wine that spring from the surface. Of all the qualities that define champagne, none is more distinctive than its effervescence, though how that sparkle comes to be is a long and intricate process. In truth, the term champagne refers exclusively to sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France, although many wineries around the world have adopted the méthode champenoise to recreate the authentic fizz.
First, vintners prepare a batch of white wine—typically chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot meunier, or a blend of all three—and add yeast to each bottle before sealing it with a cap. Over anywhere from a few months to several years, the yeast ferments the wine again, trapping carbon dioxide within the bottle. Finally, vintners remove the yeast—a process known as disgorgement—and coronate the royal elixir with a new cork and a crown of protective wire.
In 2005, a professor at the University of Reims (in the Champagne region, incidentally) shattered a long-held belief about the key to extra-bubbly bubbly. For centuries, champagne connoisseurs had thought the champagne flute’s abundance of microscopic divots was responsible for the occurrence of bubbles, which can only form when the gas is disturbed by tiny imperfections. But Gérard Liger-Belair had a new explanation, elegance be damned: it’s actually dirt—namely, the tiny fragments of dust and hand-towel particles that naturally cling to every glass—that provides the impetus for bubbles to spring forth.
Regardless of the cause, as the bubbles rise, they carry the essence of the wine with them, releasing its complex, aromatic compounds as they burst to create champagne’s rich, ethereal flavor. You may want to be wary when raising a toast at a formal event, though, as bubbles can fall victim to a surprising culprit: lipstick. Experts warn that fat molecules, such as those found in peanuts or lip gloss, can break the bubble walls before they ever have a chance to reach your tongue.