Jo Burzynska: The lowdown on bubbly

By Jo Burzynska

As corks are primed to pop with the imminent arrival of the festive season, Jo Burzynska shares some background on bubbly to aid your understanding and appreciation of this perfect party drink.

Know the facts before your next celebration. Photo / Jupiterimages
Know the facts before your next celebration. Photo / Jupiterimages

It's an English invention

Although the French monk Dom Perignon is often cited as the man who put the fizz into Champagne, the secrets of sparkling wine were actually uncovered by an English scientist and physician, Christopher Merrett. Decades before Dom Perignon's discovery in the late 1600s, Merrett documented how the addition of sugar to a finished wine created a second fermentation and consequently the fizz that characterises the style. It's part of the history of the style that the Champenois tend to keep quiet!

White bubbly can be made from black grapes

The black grape pinot noir is one of the key grapes of Champagne and found in many of the world's top bubbles, both rose and white. Like most black varieties, pinot noir's colour resides solely in its skins, which in the sparkling wine-making process are swiftly removed before they impart any tint to the juice. For sparkling rose styles, red wine is often added separately to a white base wine to create the pink hue.

A cork can leave a bottle at over 40km an hour

As the pressure inside a bottle of bubbly is easily as much as that of a car tyre, a cork when popped can be propelled at speeds of more than 40km an hour. For this reason you should always point the cork of any sparkling wine you're opening well away from yourself and others to avoid potential injury.

It's a flute that suits

Stemware is incredibly important when it comes to serving sparkling wine. Forget the retro bowl-like "coupe", the best vessel from which to imbibe bubbly is the narrow flute, which concentrates the wine's aromas and minimises the amount of wine that comes in contact with the air. These also have a "sparkling point" etched in the bottom of the glass to enhance the flow of bubbles through the wine in a non-stop stream from the centre.

Many methods maketh sparkling wine

Champagne and most high-quality sparkling wines are made by the Methode Traditionnelle, a complex process that creates the finest mousse (the French term for fizziness). A slightly cheaper way of bringing on the bubbles is the transfer method, which can often be deduced from the label by the use of the term "bottle-fermented". Lesser methods include inducing bubbles in bulk tanks rather than individual bottles or carbonating them like fizzy drinks, which produces less complex wines with bigger and shorter-lived bubbles.

Fizz likes things cool

Cool is the keyword when it comes to the serving temperature of sparkling wines and the regions best suited to making them. The optimum serving temperature for sparklers is a chilly 6-10C, while cooler climates - such as those of northern France, New Zealand and Tasmania - can best grow the crisp fruit suited to making the style.

There's more to a bubble than simply Co2

A sparkling wine's bubbles are created when the carbon dioxide produced by fermentation is trapped within a wine. However, a study conducted by French scientists found the bubbles in a sparkling wine also contain aroma compounds that are released as the bubbles pop on hitting the wine's surface.

Sparkling rosé is on the up

In many countries across the world sparkling rosé has been taking off in recent years, driven largely by female drinkers, it would appear. Champagne has been enjoying increasing rosé sales, despite it costing on average about 20 per cent higher than its white counterpart. This has led to a number of Champagne houses releasing new rosé versions, and the trend is slowly being seen here in New Zealand with some of our most important sparkling labels launching rosé wines over the past few years.

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