Champagne without the bubbles would just be another wine.
There are more than two million bubbles in a flute of champagne, and the composition and quality of these bubbles can make or break the tasting experience. Not only that, but the style of glass can also affect the quality of the bubbles. But let’s start with the bubbles themselves. It is transfixing to watch them rise to the surface of the glass. A spiralling ascent finishing with thousands of tiny bursts that release the aroma and promise of the taste in the glass. Then, when tasted, too many of them can make the experience less than perfect, too few, underwhelming. As they burst on the tongue, the taste buds send happy signals to our brain.
Many aficionados claim the flute Reimoise to be the perfect vessel for tasting champagne. It’s slightly elongated tulip shape gives just the right balance for the ascent of the bubbles and the release of the aromas.
Unfortunately, the coupe, although oh so elegant, is not ideal. Being so shallow, the bubbles don’t get the chance to rise to their full potential. If a glass is too clean, the bubbles also have trouble rising properly. It is best to wash them by hand, and not to try too hard to dry the very bottom of the flute. A slight build up of lime scale or sediment helps the bubbles to form. Some glass manufacturers even slightly graze the inner point of the flute to give optimum bubble rising conditions. The bubbles in a well prepared flute seem to rise in a perfect spiral.
Don’t despair, though, if a new set of specially engineered Riedel champagne tasting flutes are beyond your budget. A friend of ours has come up with a unique method to enhance his bubble in glass experience – with a fine piece of sand paper wrapped around the end of a chopstick, he gently rubs the bottom of each glass. He calls this technique ‘The French Tickle’. Enough said.
A French physicist, Gérard Liger-Belair, at the University of Reims, has an enviable job. His passion is bubbles and he studies exactly what it is about the bubbles in champagne that add to the tasting experience. I’m not sure if he has studied ‘The French Tickle’, but I’ll leave the last word with him.
‘The heart of the champagne lies in the bubble.’