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The deadly side of champagne bubbles

Illustration for article titled The deadly side of champagne bubbles

Though the "sparkling" part of champagne is a key part of it's appeal, those tiny bubbles were a huge problem for about a century's worth of French wine makers. We'll let you in on the making, and the downside, of bubbles.


There's a famous legend that has the inventor of champagne, Dom Perignon, tasting his invention and shouting, "I am drinking the stars." A more likely legend would have him screaming "hit the deck!" Champagne was not just an unpleasant product, but a dangerous one. Glass couldn't stand up to the pressure of the carbon dioxide inside the glass, and exploded. People had wine cellars full of randomly exploding bombs.

Some people just wished their wine would explode. Champagne didn't have the same effervescent kick that it does now, because its secret was simple. Usually wine was bottled only after the fermentation process was completed - after the yeast and the sugar had been thoroughly separated from the wine and killed off. Not champagne. It was bottled, accidentally, before the process was complete. It was bottled without corks, which today keep the carbon dioxide formed by fermentation from escaping. It was bottled without any follow up sugar added, meaning the bubble volume wasn't very impressive. And, to top it off, it was made from red wine. Imagine a pinkish sour wine with a few desultory bubbles in it and you'll get why most people didn't think it was worth risking an explosion.

Illustration for article titled The deadly side of champagne bubbles

Dom Perignon gets his fame, not because he invented champagne, but because he helped create the process with which champagne worth drinking. Blending the grapes and going from red to white created a better flavor. The addition of a cork helped keep the carbon dioxide in the bottle. Mostly, though, champagne gets its kick from an extra dose of sugar. The grapes get pressed and fermented with yeast and sugar. But before they go in the bottle, a little extra sugar and yeast is added in. The bottles are allowed to ferment, so the wine is cloudy with yeast. After some time, the bottles are hung upside down, so the yeast and other solids slowly settles in the neck of the bottle just next to the cork. When the cork is pulled, the solids are the first things to come out. To make up the lost liquid, winemakers add aged wine and even more sugar to sweeten the wine.

Of course, some cheap champagnes just ferment the wine once, let it age for a while, and literally pump in the carbon dioxide like the champagne is a canned soda. And although the strengthened bottles don't explode anymore, you could detach your retina with the cork. But don't think of that when you're celebrating. Or at least aim the cork at someone mean.


Top Image: Volodymyr Goinyk/Shutterstock

Via Exploratorium, Duvine, The New York Times.


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No kidding,one New Year's Eve I saw a cork fly something like 15 feet and almost knock out cold one of my aunts. Dem grapes pack a wallop...