Effervescence, when the magic happens!

Nov 12, 2021 • 3 mins
Assistante chef de projet

Ahhh yes, the effervescence of champagne, so fine, so graceful... Although they are a natural phenomenon, the creation of champagne bubbles nonetheless requires real expertise. Do you know how it is done?

First, let's go back in time…

Legend has it that Dom Pierre Pérignon was the inventor of champagne or rather that he discovered a reliable means of creating a uniform “mousse” in a wine. A Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Hautvillers, this spiritual father of the Champagne region held the position of cellarer (or procurer), a steward whose responsibilities also extended to the vineyards.

Even if he was not the actual “inventor” of champagne, we can nevertheless be certain of his talent as an administrator and négociant, as well as his qualities as a winegrower, winemaker and oenologist. He greatly improved the champagne making process, from the blending to the use of a cork

From the turn of the 17th century, wine began to be stored and transported in bottles rather than barrels. The effervescence trapped in the bottles was then revealed in the glass of the bottles thanks to closures that were much more airtight. This is how the legend was born, a legend that is still cleverly maintained today.

Back to the future ?

You have certainly already heard the term “méthode champenoise”. It is the production process that consists of allowing the wine to undergo a double fermentation to enable the formation of lovely light bubbles. This Champagne know-how has been copied many times but - let's be a bit chauvinistic here - never equalled!

The first fermentation, alcoholic fermentation, takes place on the grape must (or juice) obtained after the pressing of the grapes at harvest time. It is the biological transformation of the grape sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide, through the addition of yeast.

Next comes the malolactic fermentation. This consists of transforming malic acid into lactic acid and reducing any harsh acidity in the wine. This fermentation is not compulsory in Champagne, although it is often used because it can improve a wine’s finesse and mouthfeel.

The process ends with the "prise de mousse", the fermentation that takes place after "tirage" (the bottling of the wine). The "liqueur de tirage", made of yeast and sugar, is added to the bottles. The sugar turns into alcohol and carbon dioxide, which in turn dissolves in the wine to form bubbles. The slower the second fermentation, the finer and lighter the bubbles (a sign of quality).

The influence of the glass on the bubbles

One should not forget that the glass also influences the formation of the bubbles! Essentially formed from carbon dioxide, the bubbles are released when the bottle is opened. At pouring, the bubbles are formed with the cellulose particles present on the wall of the glass, which are similar to the dust or fibres on a tea towel.

As they rise in the glass, they are said to form a "cordon" (bead) before bursting on the surface creating a “collerette” or ring of mousse. The larger the glass, the finer the bubbles. So, choose wisely!

If you are interested in learning more about “bubbles”, check out the work of Gérard Liger-Belair, a scientific expert in carbonation. And if you want to know more about the champagne making process, click here!

To conclude this rather effervescent article, a question: when nosing a champagne, have you ever experienced the sensation that the champagne bubbles are prickling your nose? Then what you have experienced is just a "piqûre carbonique" (carbonic prickle)!

So, now all that remains is for you to go off and impress your friends with your new-found champagne tasting knowledge!