Tonight, when you pop the bubbly, will you be popping champagne or sparkling wine? What’s the difference? Well, to wine lovers, it’s a big one.
The difference between sparkling wine and champagne is all about place. Mental Floss writes:
The French are really, really prickly about misuse of the word champagne. Only sparkling white wine that comes from the Champagne region of France, in the northeastern part of the country, can be called champagne. And that’s not a suggestion; in Europe, it’s the law. It has been illegal for non-Champaignois vineyards to call their booze champagne since 1891. In fact, so important is French ownership of the word champagne that it was reaffirmed in no less important a document than 1919’s Treaty of Versailles—the one that ended World War I.
But here’s the loophole: The United States never ratified the Treaty of Versailles—not because of the champagne clause, but because the Republican-controlled Congress didn’t want to see the formation of a League of Nations. And so, in America, it is perfectly legal to call your sparkling wine “champagne.” In fact, you can call your gym shoes champagne, if you’d like. (What better way to exercise your freedom of speech!)
In fact, real champagne producers recently launched a campaign to educate us silly Americans about just what real champagne is. Their site says:
The Champagne Bureau located in Washington, DC, is the U.S. representative of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), the trade association that represents all the grape growers and houses of Champagne, France.
The Bureau works to educate American consumers about the uniqueness of the wines of Champagne and expand their understanding of the need to protect the Champagne name in the United States.
If, in the US, any sparkling wine can be called champagne, how can you tell how good yours is? NPR says to look at the bubbles to find out if your wine was made in the Champagne method:
It’s a labor- and time-intensive process whereby each bottle goes through a second fermentation in the bottle. “The benefit of this method is higher-quality sparkling wine,” Frank says.
And one way that the sparkling wine produced in this method can distinguish itself in the flute is that the train of bubbles keeps streaming and streaming, down to the last sip.
Why is this the case? Well, smaller bubbles seem to really add to the taste. American Scientist writes:
As the bottle is opened, the gas gushes out in the form of tiny CO2 bubbles. In order for the liquid to regain equilibrium once the cork is removed, it must release about five liters of CO2 from a 0.75 liter bottle, or about six times its own volume. About 80 percent of this CO2 is simply outgassed by direct diffusion, but the remaining 20 percent still equates to about 20 million bubbles per glass (a typical flute holds about 0.1 liter). For Champagne connoisseurs, smaller bubble size is also a measure of quality.
For consumers and winemakers as well, the role usually ascribed to bubbles in Champagne tasting is to awaken the sight sense. Indeed, the image of Champagne is intrinsically linked to the bubbles that look like “chains of pearls” in the glass and create a cushion of foam on the surface. But beyond this visual aspect, the informed consumer recognizes effervescence as one of the main ways that flavor is imparted, because bursting CO2 bubbles propel the aroma of sparkling wine into the drinker’s nose and mouth.
Okay, so you’ve picked your wine. How do you pour it? NPR has your back again:
The traditional way is to pour Champagne straight down into the flute. But Liger-Belair says you may be losing thousands of bubbles this way.
In a study published in The Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, Liger-Belair and some colleagues found that pouring champagne down the side of a tilted glass, similar to the way beer is poured, preserved about 25 percent more carbon dioxide.
And remember, bubbles are key, so you don’t want to lose them. And you want to keep your lipstick or crumbs away from the glass too. American Scientist says that will simply ruin the effect:
As time increases after pouring, surfactant levels at the surface of the wine increase; these interlock in the liquid layer over the bubble caps, strengthening the surface tension and reducing the liquid velocity of the film so it does not drain away as rapidly, which extends the bubble lifespan. The wine develops a long-lasting collar of foam at the periphery of the flute. Even minute amounts of oils will instantly rupture bubble caps, however, so it is aesthetically vital to keep such substances (from snacks or lipsticks, for instance) apart from Champagne.
And now you are finally ready to sip some bubbly.
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