Anatomy of the sparkling wine bottle
Even though the elegant shape of the classic sparkling wine bottle is an invitation to pleasure, it was designed not so much for aesthetic appeal as to very specifically withstand the immense pressure of the liquid within. The shape was standardized in 1894. In recent years, variations to the original shape of the bottle are being used.
THE MUSELET meaning 'muzzle' is the wire cage that fits over the cork and is secured around the rim of the bottle, keeping the cork in place. This clever contraption was invented in the early 1800's by Adolphe Jacquesson of the eponymous Champagne house. Before this, the producers tied the cork down with string.
A plaque on the top of the muselet was stamped with the name of the vintner and perhaps the vintage, if applicable. It was only after World War II that the plaque became an integral part of the muselet.
THE CORK is made of two parts. The lower part which is inserted into the bottle is a composite of natural cork. The upper part, or manche, is agglomerate cork, or bits of chopped cork glued together. The cork bulges out of the bottle because it is wider than the neck of the bottle and has been forced inside. Sparkling wine corks are about 30 to 31 millimetres in diameter, quite substantially larger than those used to seal still wine. Like wine corks, they start out straight, but to fit into the
bottle the cork has to be compressed to about 18 millimetres indiameter.
Once the cork is popped, it expands into an exaggerated mushroom shape. A sure sign of a spoiled or old bottle of bubbly is if the cork does not expand when it is removed from the bottle. Traditionally, wines from Champagne were sealed with hemp-soaked wooden plugs. However, Dom Pérignon had observed monks who had returned from Compostello making use of corks, and he introduced this innovation to the region.
THE RIM is the smooth protrusion around the top of the neck which is necessary to anchor the muselet or wire cage.
THE BOTTLE is special. It takes an extraordinarily thick glass bottle to contain the effervescence and pressure of sparkling wine (about 6 bars of pressure in a typical bottle of bubbly), and that's why a bottle of bubbly is noticeably heavier than a bottle of still wine. In the experimental sixteen and seventeenth centuries, before the advent of thicker, heavyweight bottles, the production of sparkling wine was a hazardous industry. Between 20 and 90 percent of a vintage could be lost due to the exploding bottles, and cellar masters received danger pay for working in such perilous environments.
THE INDENTATION at the base of a sparkling wine bottle is a concave design that helps to prevent pressure from building up at the bottom. This indentation is known as the punt. It is where you hold your thumb when pouring from the bottle.