How big are your bubbles
Over the festive season much sparkling wine is consumed, and across dining tables the subject of bubbles often comes up in conversation.
Is the size of the bubbles important?Bubbles are an important part of what makes Champagne and other sparkling wines so appealing.
The dear, departed Christian Pol Roger, of the eponymous Champagne house, an inveterate wisecracker, used to joke “Of course the size of the bubbles is important. If the bubbles were too big they would not get out of the neck of the bottle!”
But seriously, bubbles are an important part of what makes Champagne and other sparkling wines so appealing. They provide the mouth-feel, or texture, that we so enjoy.
Tiny bubbles also look nicer: finer things are always better than coarse. Just compare a cheap young fizz with an aged sparkling wine such as Arras Grand Vintage or Deviation Road Beltana and you’ll see the bubbles are bigger, more like those in carbonated water.
Soda water has big bubbles that create an aggressive fizz on the palate. Finer bubbles give a smoother, more subtle sensation, like a caress of the tongue. Small bubbles are valued in Champagne for their creamy effect.
Smaller bubbles don’t necessarily denote a higher quality wine, but they can be an indication of the wine’s maturity. (And maturity often correlates with quality, which is probably where the idea that small bubbles are a sign of quality originated.)
Bubble size is a function of age, as the bubbles are finer in wines with less dissolved CO2, and CO2 decreases slightly as the wine ages. High-end sparkling wine is sold only after long maturation with its yeast lees inside the bottle in which it was fermented. By law, vintage Champagne must have been matured in its bottle for at least three years before sale. Most vintage wines have four to five years and the best, 10 or more. I recently tasted Lanson’s new Noble Blanc de Blancs 2004, which was released at 18 years old. The bubbles were superfine… and it’s a great wine.Bubble size is also related to the impurities in the wine—microscopic solids that may remain after fermentation.
Bubble size is also related to the impurities in the wine—microscopic solids that may remain after fermentation. The longer a Champagne ages on its lees, the more likely any residual proteins, tannins, yeast cells and tartrates are likely to be deposited in the sediment, which is then removed by the riddling and disgorgement process.
Of course, it takes more than fine bubbles to make a great sparkling wine. It’s the quality of the grapes that matters most—which has a lot to do with where they were grown—and the winemaker’s skill.