Champagne Myths, Separating Fact from Fiction
17th June 2021
The world of Champagne and sparkling wine is packed with myths and half truths. Here at Glass of Bubbly it’s time to sort fact from fiction.
The Silver Teaspoon Myth
It’s magic it really is! Putting a teaspoon in a bottle of bubbles to keep your favourite fizz from going flat overnight in the fridge. True but it’s not the spoon that keeps bubbles in check. You can thank your unsung hero the fridge for keeping those bubbles right where they should be, firmly in the bottle. A bottle that’s half or more full will keep its sparkle for longer than that which is nearly empty. If you are left with only the dregs then I would say there is a good argument for pushing on through!
The Sexy Coupe
Next on the list of Champagne myths, the coupe. A beautiful wide rimmed glass that is reminiscent of Champagne waterfalls, Babycham and perhaps for F. Scott Fitzgerald fans The Great Gatsby. It has long been urban myth that the coupe was modelled on Marie Antoinette’s left breast. No surprise, that myth doesn’t fly given the lack of living evidence and the varying range of sizes and styles of coupes on the market. This style of glass is great for getting the hit of bubbles in the face but science has proved two things. Firstly, your Champagne will get flatter quicker due to the wide surface area of the bowl shape meaning you may have to drink your tipple fast. Secondly, it’s been proved that the alcohol leaves your glass quicker in the coupe meaning you will have to drink more Champagne if getting tipsy is your primary aim.
The More Bubbles in my Glass the Better the Quality?
The more bubbles you see in the glass the better the quality? Well not exactly, bubbles form in the glass on microscopic impurities such as scratches or specks of dirt. Without these miniscule abrasions our sparkling wine would look like a still wine! Thankfully it would be impossible to serve in a perfectly smooth glass and as a result our fizz can be seen as winemakers intended. Some disreputable bartenders have even been known to scratch glasses deliberately so that a flagging fizz may appear vital and full of bubbles when served to customers so watch out!
Some glass makers also lazer etch the bottom of their Champagne glasses deliberately so that your bubbles will form in one area at the bottom, this style of glass has become more and more popular of late.
Big Bubbles Bad? Little Bubbles Good?
The size of the bubbles denotes the quality of the sparkling wine. Yes, this is probably true. The higher quality the sparkling wine made in a traditional method (where the winemaker has ensured that a second fermentation in the bottle occurs due to the carbon dioxide being trapped in the bottle) with this method the bubbles are created by nature in a bottle rather than in tank and do tend to be smaller in size depending of course how old the wine is. Tank or Charmat method wines like those found in Prosecco tend to form larger bubbles. This is because unlike a bottle Prosecco or tank method wines the carbon dioxide is trapped in stainless steel or an inert vessel and not in the bottle. As a result, this is a much quicker process than that which can be seen with traditional Champagne styles. However, at the end of the day, it’s up to you which type of bubble you prefer! I’ve had clients that prefer the mouthfeel of prosecco bubbles over an expensive Champagne any day.
Beautiful Necks means Beautiful Wines? Foil or no foil?
The foil collar on Champagnes and sparkling wines are there to make the wine look pretty and nothing more or so, we are led to believe. The foil collar on most sparkling wines does make the wine appear more attractive to us as consumers and is suggestive of quality and hints at something special going on in the bottle. It may look decorative but in truth, the foil collar was designed to hide just how much wine the bottle was filled with.
When traditional method wines are disgorged (a process by which the dead yeast responsible for creating the sparkle is removed from the wine prior to being sold) the dead frozen yeast is expelled by force of pressure out of the bottle and discarded. This would leave bottles with varying levels of fizz inside and to hide these various volume differences winemakers would hide this fact by slipping a beautiful foil collar on.
Today modern winemakers keep the traditional foil on the bottle but thanks to strict wine making rules and regulations all bottles are topped up post yeast disgorgement to the full. Thus, ensuring we get the full 750ml and exactly the amount of wine we pay for.
1,2,3…There are more Bubbles in Champagne than Stars in the Sky?
There are more bubbles in Champagne than stars in the sky! Sounds great doesn’t it, an almost infinite number of bubbles, bubbling away in a bottle! No surprise this too is a myth. There are many different calculations to answer the oldest question in fizz “How many bubbles does a bottle of Champagne have?” Thankfully, there are a few people that have attempted this mathematical conundrum and I am not one of them. The general consensus is that there are between 50 to 250 million bubbles in every bottle of Champagne. Quite the range, it’s said that one extreme came about by photographing every bubble that fled the bottle, the other saw a scientist mathematically calculate the number of bubbles in each bottle. All I know for sure is there are a lot and everyone helps make each glass of fizz taste and look fantastic.
The English are the True Inventors of Champagne, not the French?
Who invented Champagne? Well truth be told no one, it’s more a series of discoveries that occurred over probably hundreds of years. One theory does stand up though, Nobleman Christopher Merret born in the seventeenth century was an English physician and scientist. It was true he documented the addition of molasses to still wine imported from Champagne. He noticed that bubbles formed in a second fermentation and would serve sparkling wines at dinners in London long before the French fully embraced the bubble.
We think this may well have to do with British engineering and the fact that the English glass bottle was stronger than the French at the time. English glass could withstand the pressure of the bubbles trapped in the bottle. Meanwhile in high society homes in Paris and Champagne bottles would burst under the pressure of an unintended second fermentation, setting off a chain reaction and many other bottles would also explode, a disaster! In fact, it is widely acknowledged it was many decades before Dom Pérignon (perhaps one of the most famous historical names in Champagne) would embrace the sparkle and was said to have declared:
“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!”
Perhaps one of the most iconic statements in Champagne’s history, one, however, that has also been consigned to the myth bin. Sometimes fiction is better than fact and I for one love this analogy and would like to think it true especially when tasting the stars in my glass.
Written by: Abbie Bennington DipWSET
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