So How Are Those Bubbles Created?
December 1st, 2013
Peggy Fiandaca

I love Champagne! No doubt about it if I could drink it every day I would. I don’t wait for celebrations; if it is Tuesday it is great day for champagne. When I make this declaration in public, I always hear someone say “Champagne gives me headaches.”

I pick and choose when my response is just a smile and nod or when I embark on a possible explanation for those hangovers.

Making an assumption that the headache isn’t caused by downing a magnum of Veuve Clicquot Champagne alone, there might be another reason for the head pain.

Much of the problem lies in how the bubbles are produced.

There is truly a difference in the hand-crafted winemaking using méthode champenoise style to produce the wine bubbles versus the cheapest way – injecting carbon dioxide into the wine (or gassing it to produce the bubbles) much like you would add carbonation to soda pop. Yes I am picky when it comes to my bubbles!

Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France and it can only be produced one way using three traditional grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Sparkling wines produced outside of the Champagne region are called by many names but none should be called Champagne. Once you understand the time-honored tradition and handcrafting that goes into the making of Champagne you understand why you pay more for it.

The méthode champenoise process involves gently pressing the grapes to ensure color is not imparted by the grapes’ skins. The juice is fermented usually in stainless steel tanks. Once fermentation is complete, “assemblage” occurs where the different wines are blended to determine the appropriate winery’s style. Then the wine is bottled and a combination of yeast and sugar (known as “liqueur de tirage” is added and the bottle is capped similar to a beer bottle cap. At this point, secondary fermentation begins in the bottle and because of the cap the naturally-created carbon dioxide cannot escape. It is reabsorbed into the wine. It usually stays for a minimum two years aging on tirage. Once the second fermentation is completed, the dead yeast cells (called “lees”) are removed. Riddling is the process of removing the sediment from the bottle which today is done by machines instead of by hand.

  The Grande Dame herself, Madame Veuve Clicquot developed this process of turning and inclining the bottle each 24-hour period until the sediment is in the bottle neck. The neck is then submerged to freeze or solidify the sediment.

The crown cap is removed and the pressure inside the bottle ejects the sediment plug (known as “disgorgement”), leaving the clear wine behind. The bottle is topped off with a dosage or wine mixture, corked, caged, and labeled ready for your enjoyment.

A Cremant is a sparkling wine made in the méthode champenoise style but outside of France’s Champagne region. Same goes for the Spanish sparkling wine known as Cava or Italy’s Franciacorta. You may have enjoyed a Prosecco, Asti, or Moscato d’Asti from Italy which are similar but the first and second fermentation occurs in a pressurized tank. This process is fast, cheaper and not as labor intensive though the bubbles and taste are less refined.

To me, It all comes down to the bubbles. The traditional method produces the finest, most delicate bubbles that don’t dissipate immediately. Injected wine produces large bubbles that dissipate quickly and can cause that headache.