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When a Champagne Stopper is also a Holy Rite

Those exhilarating, tongue tickling bubbles, where would we be without them? Over 49 million bubbles in every bottle according to Scientist  Bill Lembeck. Though exactly how he counted them all is shrouded in as much secrecy as the number of Jeroboam’s it took to indulge Marylin Monroe’s when she shimmied into the ultimate champagne bubble bath.

Yet bubbles, or “bulles”, were not always as popular in our wines as you might have thought. Up until the latter half of the Seventeenth Century, the flat-and-that’s-that fraternity ruled viniculture. Red and only red was the only wine in town and the slightest hint of a frolicsome frizzante, would send any self-respecting medieval cellar master into fits of apoplexy.

Matters were even worse in those wineries “selected” by Royal appointment. These were almost always from ecclesiastical vineyards such as that at the Benedictine monastery of Hautvillers in the Champagne region of France, which in those days true to form produced strictly still red wines. That is until the little sparklers accidentally surfaced in the dim candle light of the Hautvillers vaults one day to the horror of the monastic brothers. Fearing for the loss of their Royal Warrant, they sought to eradicate these frolicsome offenders, less their presence in the royal chalice incur the serious displeasure of a capricious King Louis X1V and imperilled the very existence of the Abbey. Fortunately the good Brother Dom Perigon, whose deafness had relegated him to solitary cellar duty in the Abbey, failed to comprehend their protestations and the rest is history as he exclaimed: venez vite je bois les ėtoiles! A discovery that gained popular favour so quickly, that shortly after when the next Louis took to the throne, his mistress – Madame Pompadour remarked that the newly discovered sparkling wine from Hautvillers was “the only wine that enhances a women’s beauty

Uncork a bottle today, remove the champagne or sparkling wine closure and a good rush of bulles is of course de rigour as you unleash those 49 million bubbles. But therein lies a dichotomy, as researchers at the University of Reims have just discovered. Using proprietary champagne stoppers and closures on five different brands of champagne and an ultra high resolution mass spectrometer, they claim that the true essence, the true flavour of champagne, has little or nothing to do with the liquid wine itself!

In fact when it comes to sparkling wines one might render in vino veritas as in bullae veritas for as the French Scientists have uncovered, it is the famous bubbles in the mousse that deliver the flavour- up to 30 times more effectively than the liquid wine itself. Presumably by employing champagne sealers (it was not disclosed which type of champagne stoppers or sparkling wine sealers were used) they were able to show that the continual rising and collapsing of bubbles, allows for the steady and constant release of the key aroma compounds.

So to get the best from your bubbly a serious champagne stopper or fizz keeper is an essential wine tool and sealing the bottle in-between servings really will do much to enhance the enjoyment of a good bottle of fizz. Beware though the cheap Chinese wine stoppers with a flat rubber seals or rubber bungs. They do little or nothing to promote a good mousse and are generally shunned by the Champagne Houses. If you’re fortunate enough to get hold of one of their personalised champagne stoppers, you’ll notice the difference. There is a patented customised champagne sealer that is favoured as a branded stopper by the wine trade and features a patented sealing action that is popular with Sommelier’s and the trade alike. Also available to the cognoscenti, not as a branded stopper but in plain format at Buy Champagne Stoppers.

So when it comes to flavoursome sparkling wines and champagnes, stoppers and sealers are the order of the day. As for that rather deaf Benedictine in his solitary cellar for which we have so much to be thankful, truly his discovery was a holy rite that produced “a drink divine that makes us forget all our troubles, it’s made of a dollar’s worth of wine, and three dollars’ worth of bubbles.”

Paul Fenner