The Chemistry of Champagne

Sarah Batten,


    Champagne enjoys a reputation as one of the most well-known and sought after sparkling wines, usually consumed only on special occasions; few people enjoy the luxury of champagne everyday!

    The process of wine making was taken to a new level when in the 17th century a Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon, noticed that in the spring time some wines refermented, resulting in a build up of pressure from the release of carbon dioxide, CO2, causing the bottles to explode!  To combat this the bottles were reinforced to give the familiar Champagne bottle.  The stopper used until that point  was a simple wad of cotton that had been soaked in oil.  The first production of Champagne led to the introduction of cork stoppers.  The cork inserted into the bottle is always cylindrical but the pressure in Champagne bottles causes the distortion as the cork is forced out of the top of the bottle during maturation.

Champagne is the most northerly of the major wine growing regions in France, and is one of the oldest vineyards in Europe.  Fossil evidence shows there were vines there millions of years ago and the number was greatly increased in Roman times.

The trade name Champagne can only be used for sparkling wines produced in this region, others have to use different brand names, e.g. Spunante from Italy and Sekt from Germany.

The Champagne-making process