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Uncorked: The Science of Champagne (Revised Edition)

Gérard Liger-Belair
With a new foreword by Hervé This
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 212
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Uncorkedquenches our curiosity about the inner workings of one of the world's most prized beverages. Esteemed for its freshness, vitality, and sensuality, champagne is a wine of great complexity. Mysteries aplenty gush forth with the popping of that cork. Just what is that fizz? Can you judge champagne quality by how big the bubbles are, how long they last, or how they behave before they fade? And why does serving champagne in a long-stemmed flute prolong its chill and effervescence? Through lively prose and a wealth of state-of-the-art photos, this revised edition ofUncorkedunlocks the door to what champagne is all about.

    Providing an unprecedented close-up view of the beauty in the bubbles, Gérard Liger-Belair presents images that look surprisingly like lovely flowers, geometric patterns, even galaxies as the bubbles rise through the glass and burst forth on the surface. He illustrates how bubbles form not on the glass itself but are "born" out of debris stuck on the glass wall, how they rise, and how they pop. Offering a colorful history of champagne, Liger-Belair tells us how it is made and he asks if global warming could spell champagne's demise. In a brand-new afterword, he updates the reader on new developments in the world of bubble science and delves even more deeply into the processes that give champagne its unique and beautiful character.

    Bubbly may tickle the nose, butUncorkedtackles what the nose and the naked eye cannot--the spectacular science that gives champagne its charm and champagne drinkers immeasurable pleasure.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4780-8
    Subjects: Physics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    Hervé This

    “A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world,” said the French microbiologist Louis Pasteur, whose father was a winemaker in the Jura, that wonderful place where the famousvin jaune(yellow wine) is made. But, by “philosophy,” did Pasteur mean metaphysics or natural philosophy?

    In the days of Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, and Michael Faraday, “natural philosophy” was the name given to what we now know as “science.” In the years since, natural scientists have opted to abandon the term “natural philosophy,” so as to distinguish their field from more theological and metaphysical pursuits....

    (pp. 1-6)

    Champagne has launched thousands of ships, toasted countless weddings, and inaugurated billions of New Year’s parties throughout the world. Almost everyone—certainly everyone reading this book—has an interesting story to tell that includes a bottle of champagne. So it seems best to start this book with a story of my own.

    I’m a physicist. What’s a physicist doing writing about champagne? Well, the story begins on a summer afternoon when I was a student in the midst of finals and thought it would be a good plan before getting on with studying to stop somewhere on the way home...

    (pp. 7-18)

    Pop open a bottle of champagne, pour yourself a flute, and observe what happens in the small space inside the glass. Bubbles form on several spots on the glass wall, detach, and then rise toward the surface in elegant trails, like so many tiny hot-air balloons. Listen carefully also. When they burst at the surface, the bubbles make a crackling sound and produce a cloud of tiny droplets that pleasantly tickle the taster’s nostrils. This process—effervescence—enlivens champagne, beers, and many other carbonated beverages. Without bubbles, beer would be flat, and champagne and sparkling wines would be unrecognizable.


    (pp. 19-30)

    The modern production of champagne is not far removed from that developed empirically by Dom Pérignon. This method, known as theFrench Method, is also used outside the Champagne region; wines produced as such are labeledMéthode Champenoiseor sometimesMéthode Traditionelle. Indeed, most American and Australian makers of sparkling wines use this method to create their champagnes. TheMéthode Champenoiseinvolves several distinct steps.

    Three types of noble grapes* are grown in the 75,000 acres of the Champagne vineyards:chardonnay(a white grape),pinot meunier(a dark grape), andpinot noir(a dark grape). Usually around mid-September the grapes...

    (pp. 31-36)

    Now that we have a bottle of champagne all ready and waiting for us to taste, the question arises: How do we serve it? Red wine is best served in a glass with a full and open bowl. White wine traditionally is served in a glass with a more modest tulip shape. For champagne, what would be the most fitting kind of glass? Most people these days probably would choose a champagne flute, and there are good reasons to do so. However, the flute was not always the vessel of choice when it came to drinking champagne.

    The champagne goblet,...

    (pp. 37-58)

    The gas responsible for bubble production is carbon dioxide, which is produced by yeast during the second fermentation in the sealed bottle. According to Henry’s law, equilibrium is established between carbon dioxide molecules dissolved in the liquid and carbon dioxide molecules in the vapor phase in the headspace under the cork. Before opening the bottle, the pressure of the carbon dioxide under the cork is about 6 atmospheres. The amount of dissolved carbon dioxide molecules in equilibrium is about 12 grams per liter of champagne. When the bottle is opened, the carbon dioxide pressure in the vapor phase suddenly drops,...

    (pp. 59-84)

    After bubbles are born and released from their nucleation sites, they rise toward the liquid surface in elegant bubble trains and grow in size during their ascent (Figure 10). After a journey of about 10 centimeters, champagne bubbles will reach a diameter close to 1 millimeter—meaning that they increase by a factor about 1 million in volume during their trip up (since their size at the point they leave their nucleation sites was about 10 micrometers).

    So what actually makes bubbles grow as they rise toward the liquid surface? In fact, bubble growth is due to excess carbon dioxide...

    (pp. 85-132)

    The last step in a champagne bubble’s life—and certainly the most spectacular—is its bursting at the liquid surface.

    Bubbles begin to reach the free surface only a few seconds* after being born on an impurity below the liquid surface on the wall of the glass. At the liquid surface, the shape of the bubble results from a balance between buoyancy (which tends to make the bubble emerge from the surface) and a capillary force proportional to the size of the bubble cap (which tends to keep the bubble below the surface). In a flute of champagne, the bubble...

    (pp. 133-142)

    Most environmentalists and climatologists now believe that our planet is getting warmer and warmer. Global warming is due to an increase in the magnitude of the greenhouse effect, as well as an increase in solar intensity (due to ozone depletion). The earth experiences a natural greenhouse effect due to trace amounts of certain naturally occurring gases (e.g., carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, and others). Carbon dioxide is one of the primary greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and it actually traps outgoing heat and warms the Earth. Theenhancedgreenhouse effect refers to the augmentation of these gases by human activities...

    (pp. 143-182)

    Since the original publication… ofUncorked, in which I first presented the life of the champagne bubble in never-before-seen detail, we have made wonderful progress in our research and attempts to more deeply comprehend the processes that give champagne its unique character. In this afterword, I will describe some of the latest developments in the world of bubble science. In addition to high-speed photography, we use a variety of other experimental techniques to reveal the extraordinary odyssey of the champagne bubble—from its birth, or nucleation, to its spectacular “pop” at the surface of your glass. I hope that your...

    (pp. 183-184)
    (pp. 185-187)
    (pp. 188-188)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 189-194)