While some consumers are pondering how those bubbles are created in Champagne and Sparkling Wine, not as many ponder how to put more of those bubbles into the New Year’s Eve celebrations.
It’s a natural fit. The party and the bubbles, that is.
Okay, without boring you with scientific and biochemical explanations about how all of those bubbles ended up in the wine, the estimate is that in each glass of sparkling wine there are 15 million bubbles. Assume you are getting at least 8 glasses of wine out of each bottle, then you have….okay, it does not work that cleanly due to the fact that some of the escaping gas in the wine does not escape in bubble form and as the wine warms up, the bubbles get larger.
You are good with the estimate 15 million, right? I spent a lot of time determining the answer for you. Lots of research. You are very welcome.
The bubbles get into the bottle (the logical counter-question is why most wines we drink do not have bubbles) because the wines designed to possess bubbles are sent through an additional process. It’s natural so be assured no one is taking a straw and blowing into the wine you are going to drink. Gross!!
What happens is that after a wine has finished its initial fermentation (the conversion of sugars in the fruit into alcohol with the help of yeasts), it is put through another fermentation. That means more yeast is introduced into the still-processing wine and either in a large stainless steel vat, or in the very bottle you purchase, a second fermentation takes place. That’s yeast doing its angelic work. The additional gas created from that fermentation is captured in the wine. Voila! Bubbles!
The second fermentation creates a high level of atmospheric pressure in the bottle, which explains the need to be extra careful opening Champagne or sparkling wine bottles. That cork wants to be airborne when the metal cage surrounding it is removed. The cork comes forth with velocity and force. If one of your or your friend’s body part is in the way and you are not controlling the situation, from your mother’s viewpoint, you might as well be running with scissors or playing with the Red Ryder BB gun. “Stop that. You are going to put an eye out.”
As a side note, I assume those parental warnings did their job. You very seldom see anyone walking around with just one eye as the result of not being careful with scissors or bad aim with a BB gun. I also have never seen anyone with just one eye working at a winery. FYI.
That was not the case in the 1600’s when the Abbott for the monks at the monastery in the village of Hautvilliers in France summoned one of his better winemaking monks, Dom Perignon, and told him to oversee the task of ceasing the making of the sparkling wines that the royal courts loved. Exploding bottles were causing a lot of lost hands and eyes in the cellars. Perignon not only better designed and defined the parameters for making sparkling wine, he also paid attention to the manufacture of the bottles, making them stronger with more consistency in thickness.
To clarify a myth, Dom Perignon did not invent Champagne. He refined the process along with the moving parts and ingredients necessary to make a consistently quality product, and he defined the packaging.
Anyway, Champagne and its cousins around the world: Cava in Spain, Prosecco in Italy, Sekt in the German countries, and Sparkling wine just about everywhere else, all are very right for celebration and what better time to celebrate than when the odometer turns to another year.
That brings us to the million dollar question: should we enjoy wines with bubbles straight, or do we make cocktails with the happy product?
Consumers who are snobbish about their Champagne are mortified when the nectar is mixed with any additional ingredients. For fine Champagne, I would agree. But when it comes to anything less than the finest Champagne, a little bitters, maybe some fruit, just a touch of sugar, maybe another spirit, or some combination of all those things is fun and almost always the results are entirely pleasant.
A few more words about wines that also have bubbles:
- Be aware of the sugar levels in Champagne or Sparkling Wine. These can head too far over to the sweet side very quickly. These levels are defined as Brut (most common and not very sweet), then in ever-increasing amounts of added sugar, Extra Dry, Dry, and Demi Sec. There is also Extra Brut and Brut Nature, both with less sugar than Brut.
- Be certain your glasses are extra clean and contain no soap residue. Before you pour sparkling wine into the glasses, douse them with a heavy rinse of really hot water, and then dry them with a paper towel or a dish towel that has not been washed in detergent or dried with a dryer sheet. If you are using a flute style glass, be certain to get all the way to the narrow bottom of the glass to remove any impurity located there. That may include dried-on ingredients, like orange or lemon bits, left over from a previous use (mimosas?) and dust.
- A perfectly acceptable alternative to a flute-style glass is the same glass you use for white wine. A perfectly unacceptable alternative is the very wide, very shallow and very awkward “Marie Antoinette” style glass.
- Always use the best Champagne or Sparkling Wine you can afford. In no other style of wine does cost figure as prominently as a guide. Pay more; get a much better product. Maybe you are not able to discern the difference between a product that costs $14 and one that costs $40. I assure you, the difference is there in a big way. It may not be worth it to you and that is a personal decision, but price is a clear definer in sparkling wine and Champagne.
- A word about serving temperature for sparkling wine: cold. Most white wines start losing their subtle character when served too cold. Sparkling wine and Champagne are really not in that category. I have friends who even like to have a bit of frozen slush in their wines with bubbles. That may be a bit too cold but the wines lose everything, including the bubbles, when they are warmer than very cold.
Wines with bubbles make anytime a festive occasion. Tough to frown when you are drinking this style of wine. Unless you simply don’t want to be happy. Then, that’s on you.
Happy New Year. Party like no one is looking. Most importantly, don’t drink and drive. Plenty of other options rather than starting the year with a nasty citation, or worse.
Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com.