Froth and Bubble

This article first appeared in Style Magazine, July 2007

Tyson Stelzer

According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world record for the fastest Champagne cork is held by our very own University of Queensland. Students in the Engineering Department rocketed a cork to 41400 km/h in their X2 Expansion Tube (a suped-up wind tunnel of sorts).

At that speed, the cork could land back in France in less than half an hour! I’m sure they must have opened a lot of bottles for their trials – and had a wild afterparty! And I thought engineering students only drank beer!

Land speed records aside, launching the cork off the balcony is a lot of fun with a cheapie bottle of fizz, but a decent bottle of Champers deserves more respect. The faster you shoot the cork, the faster the wine will go flat. Open the bottle slowly and gently, and enjoy it at its bubbly best.

The Champagne region of France has been responsible for making wine for millennia, but it has only been in the last three hundred years that sparkling wine has emerged.

The question of who first put the bubbles in the bottle has been debated over many glasses of fizz. The most popular fairy tale is that 17th Century Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon invented the process and was said to have exclaimed, “Come, I am drinking the stars!”

The truth is a far less romantic story of accidental discovery and a slow evolution performed by no one in particular, so why let the truth get in the way of a good story!

Very little sparkling wine was made during the 18th Century, largely because the bottles were too weak and many of them would explode under the pressure created by the bubbles.

Champagne bubbles are formed by the same process that creates bubbles in a bottle of home brew. A sweet grape juice called ‘dosage’ is added to the bottle to start a ‘second fermentation.’ The bottle is then sealed to trap the carbon dioxide gas which is produced during this process. It is free to escape in the form of small bubbles as soon as the bottle is opened.

Tiny bubbles are a hallmark of a fine Champagne. They produce a delicate “prickle” sensation on the tongue, in contrast to the coarse feeling of large bubbles in cheaper sparkling beverages.

Next time you’re in a vulgar mood, do a quick online search for the video of The Champagne Cork Sniper. His aim is so good that he can put out birthday candles by shooting the cork from the far side of the room! Now there’s a cool party trick.

Tyson’s Picks

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut Cuis Premier Cru NV ($45)
This is a Blanc de Blancs style (white wine from white grapes, and the only white grape in Champagne is Chardonnay). It’s refreshing, cleansing and uplifting, and at this price you can afford real Champagne at every special occasion. (First Choice, Vintage Cellars)

Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve NV ($70)
“Billy” is one of Champagnes finest small producers, and this wine always over-delivers. It’s creamy, smooth, uplifting and guaranteed to brighten your day. Whenever it’s on a wine list, I don’t read any further! (Widespread distribution)

Champagne Taittinger Prelude NV ($110)
Crafted exclusively from Grand Cru Champagne vineyards, this is a zesty wine of glorious finesse and style. I’ve been awaiting its arrival in Australia for a long time an it’s only just hit the ground, so don’t delay any longer! (Era, Stewarts, Emporium)

Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs 1998 ($225)
When you get to the top of the Champagne tree you’re not paying for brute intensity. Quite the opposite. This is a wine of sublime elegance. It will mesmerise you with its ethereal sensitivity. Prepare for the unexpected. (Drinx, Emporium, McGuires)

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