Wednesday, February 8, 2012

À qui appartient l'ébullition i

How much could it hurt, to know? We know how a toaster works, and in relevant part Champagne is a mechanical device. Subject to the vitality of the yeast, the two are further not unrelated, even before the fact of butter might come up, to say nothing of fruit. I can promise that nothing is hostile to our happiness in studying the rights and duties of Champagne. After all, the components of delight need not be less charming when love plays a hand, than when accident does.

Test Me

But I cannot deny a distaste in some people, given that I tend to share it when I feel like it, for popular mechanics. For myself, I wish I had not allowed myself this reticence, because it tends to stunt the imagination, rather than working the other way. The hydromechanics of Champagne go a very long way, in my experience, toward wrapping this occasional scolding I give myself in the most poignant and surprisingly unephemeral delicacy. It is a pity when a principle harbouring an innocent frisson cannot be adapted to the most quotidian aspects of one's transit through life, in such a way as to stimulate and not merely deplete the senses, as in Champagne.

I hadn't thought to bring this up, necessarily, but with some of the educational aspects of Champagne having been elicited in passing, the other day, I had felt wistful about parting from them so abruptly. But even then, Champagne, as among our more spontaneous of fluids, might have asserted itself in our thoughts with-out prior warning, denoting if not also imparting an irrepressible and urgent tingling under acquaintance with sudden hydraulic pressure. Accordingly, I cannot gainsay that it is timely to disclose the existence of a text which I've forborn for years to discuss, and must present now to any reader who shrinks from the mechanical mysteries of inexpressible charm.

Consider, then, a youth of unin-hibited curiosity (not to suppose the contrary, in Nature), who has been saddled with two contracts at once: one from Moët & Chandon, and the other from Princeton University Press; and basically all he has to do is, examine Champagne. You see? There are silver linings in the proletarian condition. And how like society as we know it, a flute of Champagne really is: The kinetics of bubble production also depend on the size and shape of the particles that act as nucleation sites. In a flute, the collection of particles on the flute wall most likely will be made up of all shapes and sizes 

An element of any experience of illumination of the benign, is a residual sensation of ebullience - is it not? Forgive my resistance to attributing this quality to that trajectory we call the learning process, because of its overtones of manipulation. The distance, rather, between the ebullience of our nature and ébullition in Cham-pagne is so brief and so direct that we all have it down by heart. It is wonderfully harmless to allow it to impregnate the mind. We can't know all of the incentives and all of the affinities that peel us sequentially from the flute of our dock. But it is marvelous to possess their qualities.

I'm happy to say, this is one of the most delighting and accessible of the studies I have read, in the intriguing physics and chemistry of wine. It happens, also, to have been startlingly revolutionary. Parenthetically, it's surprising that it took so long since Dom Pérignon for this understanding to be established. But I would be remiss in not recommending it very warmly as pleasure in its own right, a beautiful play of the mind. Its deficiency is in the biochemistry of viticulture; this is a study of the science of wine after the harvest. But it shares the élan of its subject, as Edwin Denby wrote about ballet: it can be so gorgeous, one has to know why.  

Gérard Ligier-Belair
Professor of Physical Sciences
University of Reims
Uncorked: The Science
  of Champagne
Princeton University Press, 2004©

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