Putting the Sparkle Into the New Year

Be careful opening that bubbly. That cork can leave the bottle at fifty miles-per-hour. Don’t start your new year by seeing – or not seeing – an ophthalmologist. A flying cork can cause eye wall rupture, glaucoma, retinal detachment, eye bleeding, dislocation of the lens and damage to the eye’s bone structure. To properly open sparkling wine, hold the cork with one hand and twist the bottle with the other. Not as exciting as a broken chandelier, but much less wine is spilled.

The French will be quick to correct you should you refer to something as “champagne” that is not from the Champagne region of France. Most U.S. producers now label theirs as “Sparkling Wine.”

Hand-riddling brings to “the life of each individual bottle a special meaning when it’s purchased, and makes serving it that much more special.” So say the producers who want you to spend a lot for their wine.

Bubbles in the wine are generated by a second fermentation. After the new wine is bottled, sugar and yeast are added to re-start the fermentation. The bottle is capped to contain the carbon dioxide and convert it into bubbles. (The ridge around the lip of the bottle is for the crown cap affixed during this process.) The bottles are periodically rotated – “riddled” – to help ease the sediment into the neck. The caps are detached, the sediment removed and the finishing cork is inserted and wired down.

Automation: not as romantic as hand riddling.

The process, methode champenoise, is expensive, especially those riddled by hand. The wine is usually labeled “Fermented in the Bottle,” to differentiate it from the less-expensive “Charmat” process, where the second fermentation takes place inside sealed tanks. No riddling necessary. Really cheap sparkling wines are simply injected with CO2 when bottled.


(In a previous life, I operated a delicatessen on the Oregon Coast. One weekender customer periodically came in to purchase sparkling wine, wieners and hot dog buns. Finally, I asked: He told me that roasting hot dogs and drinking champagne on the beach was an effective seduction strategy.)

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