The Truth About Champagne Bubbles

I have this ongoing debate with my husband who insists high quality sparkling wine has small bubbles and that champagne's bubbles are smaller. Is this true? 😕 Well, I've been researching this for months. I can't find a definitive and generalized scientific reason to support bubble size in champagne is different from other sparklers, nor that bubble size is directly associated with higher quality.🍾However the gasses let off by bubbles carry aromas of the wine which lead to better enjoyment (more & bigger bubbles mean the wine tastes better). That's our quality connection on bubbles. What I can find about the cause of bubble action and size tells me that service related decisions have a huge impact on the bubble "action", probably moreso than origin and winemaking decisions. So consider these behaviors when you serve champagne:
  • the more impurities & air pockets on the glass, the bigger the bubbles (styrofoam will create giant bubbles) so polish your glasses with a lint-free cloth if you want small bubbles

  • more gas is lost by pouring directly into the bottom of a glass vs at an angle so pour gently at an angle

  • the warmer the wine is served the fewer bubbles but a warm glass means more, so make sure your bottle is well chilled

However there are a bunch of factors that are largely out of our control as consumers that also play a role in bubble size and action:

  • the amount of sugar added during secondary fermentation effects amount of gas produced

  • larger format bottles (ex: magnum) have more suspended C02 than smaller bottles (ex: 375ml)

  • older wines (those labeled as "late disgorged", "LD" or "RD") have less dissolved C02 and thus smaller bubbles as micro amounts of C02 escape and dissipate over aging

  • cooler cellar temperatures during secondary fermentation result in smaller bubbles

  • fewer impurities in the still wine can result in smaller bubbles

So is there a difference between champagne and other sparklers when it comes to bubble size or action? In a study of Moet & Chandon vs Cooks California Sparkling, Moet had 5% smaller bubbles but 3 times more "action". This seems significant, but the study hasn't been repeated or generalized and there is no explanation why the difference.

 The only origin-related factor I can find that effects bubble size and action is that of cellar temps possibly, and how long the wine is aged in the bottle (champagne requires 15 months minimum aging, cava requires just 9 months, in the US there is no minimum requirement). If there really is a difference between French champagne and cava (and we control for months aging on lees, pouring, glass impurities, service temperature, etc) then I'd chalk it up to something we don't truly understand yet about the origin terroir & all the nuanced interaction between native bio-agents like bacteria on the yeast during fermentation (for example). Until we figure that out I think we should focus more on improving the quality of what's in our glass by focusing on what we can control (temp, glass, pour...).

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