But wait just a minute, gas industry, before boasting at your New Year’s Eve gatherings. The CO2 in traditional champagne is naturally occurring. The original sparkling wine (champagne is simply sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France) was discovered accidentally when wine was put through a second fermentation process, with CO2 as a byproduct of yeast and the sugar in wine.
Of course, that’s the traditional method. Today, less expensive champagnes typically use gas injection methods similar to carbonating soft drinks. Now, gas industry, is your turn to take the credit. However, using this method results in larger bubbles that dissipate quickly, so traditionalists still insist on making sparkling the old-fashioned way. Believe it or not, using gas injection for sparkling wine is actually prohibited in Europe!
Since the traditional “méthod Champenoise” requires yeast, it also requires the removal of the yeast sediment after the fermentation is complete, called disgorging. Through a lengthy process of riddling, either manual or automated, the yeast is brought to the neck of the bottle. Many sparkling wine makers then dip the neck of the bottle in liquid nitrogen to flash freeze the yeast before quickly uncorking (the carbonation causes the yeast to shoot out) and recorking. Other methods can be used as well, from propylene glycol to an ice bath, although I’ve come across one sparkling winemaker that uses a mixture including dry ice.
So even if you are drinking authentic champagne this New Year’s Eve, there’s still a good chance the gas industry had something to do with it. But if your host didn’t spring for the expensive stuff, you may have the gas industry to thank. Either way, you can always impress the guests by explaining why carbon dioxide causes champagne to shoot out of the bottle. Check out the video below to learn about the science of CO2 in sparkling wine—and how to pour it properly for maximum CO2 retention.
Have a happy new year and a safe New Year’s Eve!