The Bottle Around the Bubbly


A little small talk tidbit for all those soirées in this month of holiday parties:

A bottle of champagne contains around 50 million bubbles, at three times the pressure of a car tire.

As an interesting prerequisite to the ‘invention’ of champagne, it was necessary to invent a bottle that could contain the pressure generated by all that pressure and thus avoid exploding bottles – a health hazard, not to mention a terrible waste. From what I have read, it was an Englishman from a region known for its hard cider who first came up with a technique for producing a robust glass that could withstand increased internal pressure. His name was Christopher Merret. One of those multi-faceted, inquisitive types that seem to pop up regularly in the 17th and 18th centuries, he was a physician and naturalist with a special affinity for the effects of minerals on glass-making and smelting. In 1662, he translated an Italian book, The Art of Glass (1611), and added a long series of notes based on his own observations.

Merret described how to add iron, manganese or carbon to molten glass in order to produce a bottle that could withstand the entropic powers of secondary wine fermentation, thus making possible the ‘verre anglais‘ used by Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon to make champagne. Perhaps not coincidentally, Merret also discussed how adding sugar and molasses could lead to secondary fermentation, leading to the first recorded description of sparkling wine.

At any rate, the first ‘official’ production of champagne – in 1692, thanks to Dom Pérignon – owes at least a little of its success to the existence of non-exploding bottles.

In more recent times, the weight of the heavy champagne bottle, which was standardized in the early 1970s at 900 grams, or about two pounds, is being retooled in an effort to reduce the product’s carbon footprint. The new bottles will use 65 fewer grams and have more slender shoulders while still retaining the robust strength necessary to contain those 50 million tiny bubbles.

3 thoughts on “The Bottle Around the Bubbly

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