Part 1-The Beginnings
Bubbles are always a great way to start dinner, an afternoon or simply great conversation. However, as we all know, there is a grand spectrum of quality, from the lowest grade to the finest, most elegant and delicate bubbles that lift your spirits and at times allow you to remember that moment forever.
So what makes those bubbles soooo memorable?
First we need to understand the different ways bubbles are created. As in many things in life, it is through accidents that we realize that the end product is better than the original design. Fortified wine in general, Port and Madeira, specifically are great examples. It was the afterthought when someone realized “hey, that is so much better!” that people started to promote the idea and create a brand new product.
Sparkling wine had that very beginning.
Wine, as we know it, goes through an alcoholic fermentation (the action of yeast on sugar) thus creating alcohol and CO2 with other smaller byproducts. This CO2 (our bubbles) needs a natural escape in order to create a still wine or the end product will contain some effervescence.
But bubbles in wine, which we love today, were originally considered a fault in early winemaking.
One must realize that climatic conditions are a prime factor for completing fermentation. In warmer countries or regions, it is rather easy for the alcoholic fermentation to complete itself but in cooler or colder climates, this can be a major concern.
Let’s take the champagne region as an example. Before the time of Dom Perignon, grapes were harvested, crushed and pressed, in matter of speaking, and fermentation began. But with the cold weather quickly approaching and with no natural heating options available, some yeasts still in barrels would simply “fall asleep”, become inactive, and fermentation would stop until spring time where the warmth outside would reactivate the remaining yeasts, which in turn would start to eat the remaining sugars, thereby creating alcohol and our CO2. The final product would be effervescent and when tasted, the monks would be totally disappointed and usually dump this “low grade wine”. One of the first monks who saw the potential of this “original” product was Dom Perignon, and today, because of him and others, Champagne is regarded as the most prestigious example of the Sparkling category.