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The Bubbles in Champagne — History and Secrets

Reims, December 2022

In the time of Pierre Chanoine, who founded our House in the 18th century, the effervescence of Champagne wines was elusive, not at all guaranteed, and not as strong — barely 2 bar or 30 psi. The wine was called “mousseux” (“foamy”) or “saute-bouchon” (“cork-pop”).

Today the nature and the process of formation of the bubbles in champagne are understood and controlled to the point where Chefs de Cave or cellar-masters, during the blending and ageing of the wines, can influence the size of the bubbles of the various cuvées they create.

Isabelle Tellier — Chanoine’s Chef de Cave, who develops all our cuvées — explained the bubbles in champagne for us, and in particular the fine, lacy bubbles of Tsarine…

How champagne bubbles form

— The first stage is prise de mousse or refermentation; that’s where everything begins. It is a second, in-bottle fermentation, characteristic of sparkling wines, during which the bubbles form. It lasts from six to eight weeks, in the cellars where the temperature is cool and constant. The action of the yeast transforms the sugar in the wine into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas.

The carbon dioxide accumulates in the capped bottle — dissolved in the wine, but also in a gaseous state in the neck of the bottle. Once refermentation is complete, the pressure in the bottle is considerable — 6 bar or some 87 psi.

The second stage is when the bottle is uncorked and the pressure drops — this is called the “Henry’s Law” — the gas dissolved in the wine must escape, and it does so in the form of bubbles. Therefore the bubbles exist only when and if the bottle is uncorked.

The third phase takes place in the glass. The bubbles form on impurities in the surface of the glass (fibers, cellulose). They enlarge because of these imperfections and the air that surrounds them. According to measurements that have been made, one glass can give off a million bubbles.”

“…up to a million bubbles in a single glass of champagne.”

My philosophy of bubbles and of delicacy

— As Chef de Cave, I referment at a constant temperature of 11°C for a period of six to eight weeks, and I adjust the quantity of sugar to obtain fine, lacy bubbles. If too much sugar is added, the pressure in the bottle will be higher and consequently the bubbles will be larger when they are released — which is the opposite of what I’m aiming at.

Personally, I like very fine bubbles, and Tsarine always means fine, delicate bubbles. It’s a characteristic of the Tsarine style to which I’m very attached. Such bubbles are prettier and more delicate. The bubble releases the aromas, which are enclosed within them, and when they rise to the surface of the glass, they liberate those aromas.

My philosophy is clear: Fine wines possess fine bubbles. Fine bubbles sublimate the delicate, airy flavors. And finer bubbles are softer on the palate.

The bubbles in Tsarine rosé and white champagnes will be identical. Only the ageing has an impact on the bubbles. The older the wine, the finer the bubbles, because over time there is a slight loss of pressure in the bottle.”

Isabelle Tellier, Chef de Cave, develops the Tsarine cuvées for the House of Chanoine Frères 1730.

Isabelle’s advice for lovers of delicate effervescence

“— I advise enjoying champagne in wine glasses that concentrate the bubbles. In a coupe, the surface exposed to the air is too wide, and causes the bubbles to be released too quickly and disappear too fast. Also, I recommend avoiding plastic glasses for champagne — the bubbles will be neither fine nor attractive.

When serving the champagne, tilt the glass slightly; there will be less foam, which is more attractive and presents better. Hold the bottle under its base, using all your fingers. That way it’s easier to control the tilt of the bottle. You'll be able to pour the champagne more slowly and enjoy watching the dance of the bubbles.”

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