Intriguing Facts (and Myths) Behind Champagne Bubbles

You thought you know about champagne? Think again.Not many things will get a party started like the pop of a champagne bottle. Everyone loves the drink, and it seems to lend itself well to use with any food, as long as you avoid nasty episodes of alcohol withdrawal. However, did you know that the manner most people pour champagne is wrong? Not only that, but also the glasses we use to drink the champagne.

Even though most people may not know the details of champagne, the truth is the bubbles and the drink itself are fascinating, ever since the first drink came in the 1600s. You may also not be aware of this, but the bubbles you see are very important to how you enjoy and experience the drink, so it behaves like soda to some extent. In fact, if you pour a glass and leave it for too long, its aroma, flavor and the fizz on the tongue are gone completely.

What is the science behind the bubbles?

Interesting fact – there is enough Carbon Dioxide that is within a champagne bottle to generate 20 to 47 million bubbles. Since wine and alcohol are products of fermentation, it follows that 9g of CO2 are within a bottle of champagne.

When you open the cork, most of it will escape at high pressure, similar to when you shake a can or bottle of soda and open it suddenly – this means that the cork can burst off at very high speeds (can reach up to 30k/h). This is due to the gas volume inside increasing by up to five or six times the ‘usual’ atmospheric CO2 amounts of the bottle.

The bubbles form on microscopic fibers that stick on the surface of the glass. These can include cellulose, skin, air molecules, and fibers from towels that are used in drying the glasses. As you pour champagne into the glass, CO2 gas increases in volume until the viscosity, surface tension and pressure are enough for the microscopic fibers to ‘leak’ bubbles.

champagne bubbles

Facts on champagne bubbles

With that said, some facts about champagne bubbles include:

Importance of correct storage

You should note that all wines are stored on their side, except champagne. The reason for the other types of wine is that the cork needs to stay moist, so that it does not shrink and lead to oxidation of the wine (therefore ruining its taste).

However, in the case of champagne, its carbon dioxide content does the job of preserving the cork, and this leads to another benefit as well – the wine is not in contact with the cork, so there are less chances of negative effects due to cork taint.

Cleanliness can kill

In this case, cleanliness is not conducive to the preservation of the wine. In fact, if the flutes (wine glasses) stay with detergent residue on their surfaces, this can hinder formation of the bubbles.

Instead, you should wash your glasses thoroughly using normal dish soap. After this, rinse the glasses at least two times using hot water, since this will make sure the removal of all traces of soap. For further polishing of the glass, you will need a microfiber polishing cloth – this is a requirement if you own wine glasses.

How much CO2 escapes

This may reach levels of up to 80% when you release the cork. That means that unless you are a Formula 1 driver who has just won a race and want to show off, you need to maximize the levels of CO2 that the wine remains with through easing the cork off, similar to opening a bottle of soda.

This will reduce the rush of CO2. Another way to help the situation is pouring the wine into a tilted glass.

Rush of bubbles

Research shows that bubbles of champagne can appear at rates of 400 per second in an average glass. This is much higher than beer, whose bubbles emerge at a rate of 150 per second.

What makes it even more interesting is the bubbles absorb more molecules from chemicals in the champagne as they rise to the surface. Because of their flexibility, which is even higher than in beer, the bubbles have a higher time frame of lingering on the surface before they pop.

The bubbles improve the taste and aroma of the wine

As the bubbles burst, they eject very small droplets of champagne violently into the air, and this enhances the smell and taste of the wine. How long this lasts depends on several factors, including the variety of grapes, temperature changes and viscosity of the wine itself.

Myths busting

The glass type does not matter

A common school of thought is that the glass type you use will determine how you enjoy the wine. This leads to the long lasting comparison of flutes vs. coupes.

This is not true. In fact, you are better off drinking with a typical wine glass than flutes or coupes. They actually present a problem you may not know of – their shapes prevent the bubbles from working properly.

In a typical wine glass, the bubbles will force flow patterns to form within the liquid, resulting in stirring of the liquid and altering of the taste. However, in a flute, the bubbles will mix the liquid more effectively but the narrow opening concentrates the CO2 and the gas irritates the nose sharply. That alone will change the aroma and taste because it has passed the pain threshold of the pain receptors in the nose.

Bigger bubbles = better taste

Traditional thinking was that bigger bubbles led to greater taste, but this is not the case. In fact, smaller bubbles are better because they concentrate the taste more.

It is interesting to note that flutes will produce larger bubbles than coupes because of the weight of the liquid. The smaller the level of liquid in the glass, the smaller the bubbles will be.

Conversely, bigger bottles lead to better taste, because of CO2 levels that are higher in bigger bottles.

Final thoughts

The fascination of champagne and its bubbles is not something that will end soon, since there is much to learn on the science of how they operate. However, the lesson from this story is know your champagne, avoid alcohol withdrawal symptoms resulting from heavy intake, use better glasses and don’t waste that CO2.

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