Thursday, July 10, 2008

On Pressure

Today, we automatically assume that a champagne bottle has six atmospheres of pressure, created by adding exactly 24 grams of sugar to the bottle for the second fermentation. However, according to Yannick Doyard, who has a keen interest in all things historical in Champagne, this was not always the case.

“In the old days,” Doyard told me this morning, “the bottles were fermented on cork, which was not as inert a seal. Twenty-four grams of sugar would create only about four and a half to five atmospheres of pressure in the bottle. It wasn’t until people started using crown capsules for fermentation that champagne reached six atmospheres. Today everybody still uses 24 grams of sugar because that’s the traditional recipe, but in fact the pressure in champagne was traditionally lower.”

In Doyard’s champagnes (which, by the way, are uniformly outstanding), he seeks to capture a traditional feel by adding only 19 to 21 grams of sugar for the fermentation, creating a mousse of between 4.5 to five atmospheres. “I don’t want the bubbles to attack you on the palate,” he says. “They should be harmonious and well-integrated with the wine.” The result is a silkier, creamier texture, which works well with Doyard’s intensely vinous style of champagne.

1 comment:

brooke said...

Champagne has, of late, become an obsession with me. Maybe it's the dulling heat that make Champagne's bubbles so mentally and physically reviving. Whatever it is, it has carried over into my wine "studies" as well. I'm thrilled to have this information to add to my arsenal.
PS - Were you aware for centuries, a feud went on between the vintners of Champagne and Burgundy concerning whose wines were superior? By 1712, it had become a war of words and Paris was the hot zone for pamphlets concerning the health benefits, longevity and flavor arguments of each region. The cure for this "war?" The Champenois' harnessing of the bubbles. Once they began making sparkling wine with consistency, the wines were so different that the two couldn't compete anymore.