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Fizzy Logic

By Debra Meiburg MW

The financial sector may be wincing from a wee touch of stress, but show some sympathy for sparkling wines which are also under undue pressure. Bottled with an atmospheric heft equivalent to a double-decker KMB tire (about 5-6 bars) or about three times as much as an ordinary car tire, sparkling wines grapple with substantial stress. Our heads simulate a similar high pressure load the morning after popping a few sparkling bottles (about 5-6 bars).

The Inuit peoples have multiple words to describe snow; the Bedouins have many words for camels; and Aboriginals have an array of terms for kangaroos. There is a similarly broad lexicon to describe fizz, but sparkling wines are roughly divided into two categories: fully-sparkling and semi-sparkling. In France, the word mousseaux describes a fully-sparkling wine. Another important French term is crémant, which is the name legally ascribed to French sparkling wines when produced outside the Champagne region, but with traditional (i.e. champagne) methods. Full tire-pumping sparkle is described as espumoso in Spain, sekt in Germany and spumante in Italy. Lesser quality German bubblies are known as schaumwein, which means foam wine. One can only imagine. Champagne has positioned itself as the bubbly with the finest and highest pressure fizz, but there are many fine quality sparkling wines with slightly lower pressure. The popular sweet Italian bubbly, Asti, weighs in at 3-4 bars and Italy’s Prosecco Spumante is about 4-5 bars.

Semi-sparkling wines are easy to spot as they are bottled exactly like still wines – that is, without protective wire cages. These faintly fizzy wines are so stress-free that they are opened with cork screws. In Italy, semi-sparkling wines, such as Asti’s little sister, Moscato d’Asti (1.7 bars) are known as frizzante, or affectionately as frizzantino. In Germany, this low-heft sparkle is labelled as perlwein (pearl wine); in France as pétillant; and in Spain these gentle wines are called vino de aguja. Adjectives to describe even lower levels of light, natural effervescence are perlant in France, spritzig in Germany and vivace (lively) in Italy.

Germany has been in hot water over this prickly labelling issue because in the European Union, the degree of bubbliness is a basis for tax assessment. Apparently unscrupulous producers have been bumping up fizz levels with the hope of attracting consumers to an otherwise staid beverage. Though labelled as perlwein, the carbon dioxide levels are so excessive that the bottle pressure is plopping the wines into a higher tax bracket. It is tempting to visualize harried tax authorities painstakingly counting bubbles (49 million per standard bottle), but the tax rates are actually based on bottle pressure. Pressure between one and 2.5 bars is classed as semi-sparkling, whereas when higher than three bars, the wine is considered fully-sparkling and subject to an antiquated luxury tax – even though there are oodles of luxuriously priced red wines enjoying kinder rates. German authorities are investigating accusations that over 400 producers misleadingly labelled their wines as semi-sparkling, but elevated these sub-prime wines up to fully-sparkling solely to drive revenue growth and circumvent taxes. Hmmm. Sounding somewhat like the bottled-up financial sector?

Comments One Comment for “Fizzy Logic”
  1. Charles Ashworth on 06.08.13 at 15:22

    Of course, you could blame the stress in the financial sector on structural imbalances in world trade, Debra. The Chinese don’t drink enough French champagne to make up for all the manufacturing exported from China to France! Of course, this is, in a sense, passing the buck. Buy up France instead, Debra? c;4)

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