How many bubbles in a bottle of Champagne?
It’s that sparkling time of year, once again! How about a little Champagne trivia? Cheers!
What will it be for you this year? Champagne, Cava, Prosecco…?
Answer: According to the house of Bollinger, the answer is 56 million – or thereabouts!
Send me your wine question I’ll get back to you in a jiffy!
For a free email subscription go to home page, right column
Question from Ericka: Someone told me that they make white wine out of red grapes. Is that true?
Reply: Hi, Ericka. Thanks for writing! Yup – it’s true. However, the vast majority of white wine is made from “white” (they look green or yellow-green when they’re ripe, like the grapes you get at the grocery) varieties.
Unfortunately, this is the wrong time of the year for me to show you that the juice of dark wine grapes is clear. All of the grapes are tiny and green right now. They’ll start changing color mid to late July. But, anyway, if you squeeze a dark grape you’ll see that the juice is just as clear as a tear drop almost every time (there’s a handful of dark grapes with red juice – they’re called teinturier
varieties – best known is Alicante Bouschet
The most famous example of white wine made from red grapes is sparkling wine. Of the three traditional grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, two are dark. The grapes are harvested at a low sugar, compared to grapes for table wine, so there’s little chance that the color will begin to bleed from the skins to the juice. Then, the grape clusters are pressed (squeezed) extremely gently, to separate liquid from solid. Et voilà – very pale white juice ready to be converted to wine! Blanc de Blancs is all Chardonnay. Blanc de Noirs and Rosé are Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier.
Question from Jessica: I got a really nice bottle of Champagne from a friend. Do I need to age it?
What a lovely dilemma you have! The producers will always tell you to drink it right away because it encourages sales. And, that’s fair enough because sparklers are very reliably enjoyable on release. But – if you have a really nice bottle, aging can add to the wine’s complexity.
Here’s how to sort it out:
The least expensive Champagnes don’t have a vintage date. But that doesn’t mean it’s not any good. These wines bring several vintages together to give the producer a consistent house style. The great thing about non-vintage Champagne is that the blend includes some older wine, which certainly adds to complexity. These wines have to be bottle aged a minimum of eighteen months at the winery and it’s fine to keep them for up to five years. The wine might not be quite as fizzy down the road, but the compensation is added complexity.
Vintage Champagne is only from the best vintages and has to be bottle aged at least three years at the winery and can continue to improve in the bottle for up to as much as 20 years, especially if it’s a Blanc de Blancs. The same thing applies to what are called Prestige Cuvé
es – wines with special names like Dom Perignon or La Grande Dame. Some sommeliers feel that these wines don’t even come into their own for about 10 years.
The flavors deepen with age but, as I said, the effervescence will become more subtle. I remember talking with Hugh Davies, the owner of Schramsberg
here in the Napa Valley. He recalled that his mom liked to drink 20 and 30 year old Shramsberg just for the flavors and in that case she drank it out of a wine glass rather than a Champagne flute to get the best of the flavors. So, as with so many other things in wine, the decision on when to drink it depends upon your personal taste.
But – when in doubt, down the hatch! Cheers!
Photo: Eric Magnuson on Flickr CC
Question from Sherry: Nancy, my husband said that you are the only one he trusts with this question. What is the purpose of a punt in a wine bottle? Thank you so very much!
Reply: Thanks, Sherry! I’d better watch that I don’t get a big head!
Sherry’s asking about the dimple in the bottom of the bottle – it’s also called a “kick-up”. As far as I can tell, at this point in wine’s history, there’s no reason at all for the bottle to have a punt other than marketing. The punt makes the bottle look bigger and also adds weight so it feels more substantial in your hand – you think maybe it’s worth that extra dollar or two…
One of the many things I love about wine is that it brings together so many interests: History, art, religion, economics…
Antique glass collectors will know that the punt is all about history. The term is short for the “punty”, or the pontil rod used in free-hand glass blowing. This wooden tool was attached to the base of the hot bottle while it was being blown from the other end. When the punty was broken off, after the glass cooled, it left a “pontil scar”. If they attempted to make the bottom of the bottle completely flat, it often came out slightly convex and the bottle would tip, so they went ahead and pushed it in a little, forming the punt, to give the bottle stability. This also assures that the scar won’t scratch the table. These days, collectors look for the pontil scar on the bottom of old glass vases and perfume bottles as a mark of authenticity. Continue reading
As promised, a short course on the difference between wine and sparkling wine.
The amazing thing about sparkling wine is that it still exists because in terms of production, it’s a royal pain! Every time I visit a sparkling wine house I come away amazed that the wines don’t cost more than they do! The thing is that the winemaker has to do virtually everything that’s necessary to make still wine and then add on several steps more. Here’s how it goes:
The short course:
1. Very tart, low alcohol wine is made, blended and bottled.
2. Yeast and sugar are added to the bottle of wine before it’s sealed, which sets off a second fermentation right there in the bottle. Since the carbon dioxide gas can’t escape, it’s absorbed into the wine, later to be released as bubbles.
3. The best bubblies are aged on the spent yeast cells, which impart a toasty, yeasty character that enthusiasts adore. As the wine ages the bubbles become finer and finer.
4. Finally, the yeast is worked up into the neck of the bottle and removed.
5. Removing the yeast leaves a bit of a deficit, so the wine is topped up with more wine, usually mixed with sugar syrup to balance the high acid. The sweetness of the syrup creates the difference between Brut (dry), Extra Dry (off-dry) and so forth.
6. Final corking. Additional aging, especially for vintage dated Champagne is an option.
For those who want the whole story: Continue reading
I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty. ~ Madame Lilly Bollinger
That about sums it up, eh? 😉
Write to me with your wine-related question and I’ll get back to you in a jiffy!