The obvious reason why Champagne shows so well from magnum is that while glass is a storage vessel for whites and reds, it is also, importantly, a fermentation vessel for Champagne. After the vins clairs have been assembled into blends, they are bottled the spring of the following year, with a touch of yeast, sugar and liqueur de tirage, that creates the secondary fermentation, and the bubbles. That much is pretty simple to understand, but there is more to it.
“In tirage, we add a bit less sugar to the magnums than the bottles to lower the pressure under which the wines undergo the secondary fermentation in magnum,” explains Lécaillon. “We do this because the wines really struggle through the secondary fermentation, which takes two weeks longer than in bottle because there is less oxygen. As a result, we have more residual sugar – 1 to 2 grams per liter, as opposed to virtually dry for the bottles, and that produces a lot more glycerol, giving Champagnes from magnum a richer textural feel.”
These same factors apply to the primary alcoholic fermentation for table wines. Longer, drawn-out fermentations generating glycerol, and, other secondary aromas and flavours.
In a highly commercial winery, cultured yeast, developed to give winemakers fast, clean fermentation to dryness are the go. Safety and economic key criteria.
Ask a Burgundian or Alsatian if they have comfort with their whites taking 12 months to complete alcoholic fermentation and many will nonchalantly reply ‘It’s normal’.
For sparkling production, a fast secondary fermentation in bottles is done and dusted in 10 days to 2 weeks, a slow one may take 2-3 months. Keep in mind, this is a highly toxic environment for the yeast, special super-strong yeast cultures have to be built to do the job.
I tiraged a set of Magnums when I was at Yering Station and dropped the fermentation temp compared to the bottles. This would have undoubtedly further slowed the fermentation in addition to the factors JBL explores above. I didn’t have enough to open bottles and magnums to track and compare the fermentation.
It’s bloody stressy doing your first tirage, get it wrong and you end up with a half fermented wines in bottle or add too much sugar and the bottles will explode! That’s OK when you’re making a couple of slabs of beer, when your knocking out 1 million bottles of fizz it’s not that cool!
Anyway, back to the mag’s. The proof was in the pudding, disgorging, magnums, and bottles of the same wine side by side showed the exact differences described above. They have additional depth in the mid-palate, the aroma and flavour are even more complex and layered.
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