Red wines are generally a smooth, fully bodied form of wine, which can make it all the more concerning when you find unexpected bubbles in a bottle of Merlot.
Red wines become bubbly when they ferment in the bottle, either because they were bottled prematurely or stored in cold conditions. This creates carbonation and fills the liquid with fizzy bubbles.
This carbonation process can be done accidentally or deliberately to wine, and in either case it is completely say it is safe to drink. This article will go over how this carbonation occurs, why it is done on purpose, and a few examples of a new wine phenomenon; sparkling red wine.
What is Fermentation?
To understand where bubbles in red wine come from, one needs to understand the fermentation process and how it occurs in wine. In most wineries, fermentation is the process of organic chemicals breaking down in wine to create alcohol, and is the process responsible for the creation of wine.
This is done by introducing yeast into the juice/grape mix, since yeast breaks down the natural sugar in grapes into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The alcohol is allowed to sit and soak into the grape juice, while excess carbon dioxide is allowed to blow off .
Once the yeast has been used up in fermenting sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide, the result is usually an alcoholic drink with no trace of fermented carbon dioxide gas in the liquid. This is how most non-sparkling wines are created, through fermentation and the release of gases .
Of course, if you have ever enjoyed a sparkling wine you know that sometimes this carbon dioxide is left in deliberately to create a bubbly, fizzy effect called effervescence. This is generally done with white wine, which has a lighter body than red wine making it the more obvious choice for carbonation.
Understanding the fermentation process will help you understand why some red wines seem carbonated and bubbly.
Why do Red Wines become Carbonated?
Liquids, whether wine or soda, become carbonated when they contain a large amount of carbon dioxide that cannot escape. Carbon dioxide will dissolve in liquids, forming bubbles which are constantly trying to spread out through their container. This is why carbonated drinks will spray if shaken, and why bubbles in an open container rise to the surface and pop.
When it comes to red wines this process generally occurs by accident, when wines are bottled to quickly and a bit of yeast is left in the mix. This yeast continues to create alcohol and carbon dioxide even after being bottled, creating fizzy bubbles in the wine that create a sense of carbonation.
This is done when wines are bottled too quickly after fermentation, or if they are bottled before they are mature. As long as the wine bottled is properly sealed the carbonation will build in the wine until it becomes visibly bubbly. If a bottle is sealed with a cork, however, carbon dioxide will leak out of its pores until the wine loses carbonation and becomes standard, non-sparkling wine.
Wine can also become carbonated to an extent if it is fermented, stored, and bottled in very cold conditions. This is because the carbon dioxide in the wine will escape at a much slower rate, being slowed down by the cold. Since the carbonation leaks out more slowly, some of it may be accidentally trapped and bottled with the rest of the wine.
Sparkling wines are made deliberately to create a bubbly, light-bodied effect in wine through carbonation. The process of creating sparkling wine is not different from accidentally creating bubbly wine, the main difference is in how thoroughly the winemaker tries to keep the wine carbonated through cold storage and tightly sealed containers.
The fermentation of yeast to create alcohol and carbon dioxide is the source of bubbly carbonation in red wine.
Is Carbonated Red Wine Safe?
It may be unnerving to find bubbles in a bottle of otherwise smooth and full bodied red wine, leading you to wonder if carbonation is safe in wine. The answer is a firm yes, as other safe foods like soda and seltzer are far more carbonated than even the fizziest sparkling wine. If those drinks are safe for you, then a bit of bubbly red wine should be no problem.
This is not to say that bubbly red wine has no effect on the quality of wine, only that it is safe to drink. Wines rely on a well-balanced mixture of internal factors such as sugar and alcohol content to achieve their taste, and extra fermentation can throw this balance off, effecting the flavor and body of a wine.
Wine that has not fully fermented will have a weaker alcohol content and a sweeter flavor due to the abundance of unfermented sugar in the liquid. If a wine is fully fermented but carbonated, however, it will have a lighter body than normal due to the carbon dioxide creating an airy, fizzy effect in the wine.
If you enjoy wine that is sweeter, less, alcoholic, or lighter bodied, then this may be a bonus for you. If not, then be sure to examine any bottles of red wine you buy for bubbles and other signs of carbonation. Of course if you want a properly fermented bottle of bubbly red wine, consider looking for a bottle of sparkling red.
Sparkling Red Wine
As strange as it may seem, there are some red wines created with a sparkling, highly carbonated final product in mind. This is a fairly recent development in wine making, since red wines are traditionally smooth and full bodied.
What separates these sparkling reds from accidentally bubbly reds or sparkling whites is deliberate intent. Wine making is a complicated process that relies on balancing numerous factors such as body, taste and alcohol content. Sparkling reds are designed to balance these factors between the body of sparkling wine and the flavor of red wine.
Sparkling reds maintain the complexity and full flavor of red wine, even ranging from dry to sweet depending on your personal preference, while also maintaining the light, bubbly body of sparkling wine. This is only achieved by deliberately creating the wine to be both sparkling and red, which helps balance its qualities.
Since these wines are deliberately created to be both red and sparkling, they are not just bubbly versions of existing labels like Merlot or Pinot Noir. Instead they come in their own unique forms such as Lambrusco and Brachetto D’Acqui. If you are interested in sparkling red wines consider researching a few labels and finding one that best matches your individual tastes.
Red wines, whether bubbly or sparkling, can be jarring considering how smooth and full bodied such drinks generally are.
Red wines become carbonated when they ferment outside of the standard fermentation process, creating carbon dioxide bubbles in the wine. They can also become carbonated if fermented and stored in a cold area where carbon dioxide will disperse more slowly.
Bubbly red wines can be made accidentally through improper fermentation or deliberately as sparkling red wines. While neither is dangerous to your health only sparkling red wine is deliberately crafted and designed to balance a sparkling body with the flavor of red wine.