Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible,estimates that a standard 750ml bottle of champagne contains about 100 million bubbles. And those bubbles are not just for visual or sensory impact; MacNeil says they play an important role in the aromatics of the wine.
“Each bubble contains hundreds of chemical components which can affect taste, aroma and feel,” says MacNeil. “When the bubble bursts on the surface of the wine, tiny droplets of champagne are projected into the air, allowing the drinker to smell the wine more acutely.”
The size of the bubbles matters, too. Try comparing champagne bubbles with those in a soft drink. The latter are larger, more aggressive and dissipate quickly.
“In champagne, bubble size and persistency are signs of quality,” writes MacNeil. “Tiny bubbles, considered the best, are the result of a long ageing on the yeasts and the temperature of the ageing cellar [the cooler the smaller].”
Champagne house Besserat de Bellefon, founded in 1843, is obsessive when it comes to making champagne with fine bubbles. In 1930, Victor Besserat was asked to create a champagne with a creamier texture, which he achieved by making the wine with smaller bubbles.
Professor Gérard Liger-Belair, of the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, in France, says, “The easiest way to produce finer bubbles is to reduce the quantity of CO2 that is dissolved in the champagne, and this is linked to the amount of sugar.”
At the start of the second fermentation, a smaller amount of tirage liqueur (a mixture of wine, yeast and sugar) is added. The norm is to use about 24 grams of sugar per litre to get six atmospheres of pressure. At Besserat de Bellefon, that amount is lowered to 19 grams per litre to attain 4.5 atmospheres of pressure. In addition, extended bottle ageing helps further reduce bubble size. Analysis has shown that the bubbles of the Cuvée des Moines are 30 per cent finer than those of other champagnes. This gives a heightened sensation of a creamy mouth feel.
The winemaker believes that with finer bubbles, the champagne is better suited to food pairing.
Here are three champagnes from Besserat de Bellefon.
Besserat de Bellefon, Cuvée des Moines Brut
A blend of 35 per cent chardonnay, 20 per cent pinot noir and 45 per cent pinot meunier.
Vibrant citrus, mineral and creamy notes on the nose. Crisp red fruits on the palate, a forward, approachable style, well-balanced and finishing long.
Besserat de Bellefon, Cuvée des Moines Brut Rosé
A blend of 30 per cent chardonnay, 30 per cent pinot noir and 40 per cent pinot meunier. Aged for three years and disgorged in 2011.
An attractive onion skin colour. Savoury with strawberry and raspberry fruit on the nose. Quite rich and opulent, fruit-forward with soft acidity and a long finish.
Besserat de Bellefon, Cuvée des Moines Brut Blanc de Blanc
Made from 100 per cent chardonnay. The base wine comes from the excellent 2008 vintage. The wine was aged for three years and, after disgorgement, was bottle aged for a further two years before being released.
Toasty, nutty, with notes of brioche. Rich, mature and mellow with well-integrated acidity, gentle bubbles and finishing quite long. Drinking well – if you like mature champagne this is worth trying.
The champagnes are available from sinovantagewines.com.