The incredible journey of a champagne bubble, from fermentation to your glass

A very tame affair.
A very tame affair.
Image: Reuters/Benoit Tessier
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What do bubbles add to champagne? How do you maintain them whilst serving champagne? And what glass should champagne be served in?

The answers to these pressing questions were investigated in a series of papers totaling more than 100 pages, in a special issue of the science journal EPJ Special Topics. French researchers Gérard Liger-Belair T. Séon note in remarkable detail the journey that champagne bubbles take, from the yeast-based fermentation process in grapes, which creates carbon dioxide (CO2), to how the CO2 is sealed and kept in a finely tuned equilibrium, to the CO2 bubbles in the champagne flute.

The level of dissolved CO2 is particularly important for champagne and sparking wine. It is responsible for the much sought after effervescence and the tingling sensation in the mouth. But what is the best way to pour champagne to preserve as many bubbles as possible?

Storing champagne at low temperatures and tilting the bottle while serving helps preserve dissolved CO2 (and the subsequent effervescence). The higher the temperature of champagne, the more easily dissolved CO2 escapes whilst pouring. During the several seconds needed to pour champagne into a glass vertically, as is typically done, champagne loses approximately as much dissolved CO2 as it would in the 10 minutes it would take to drink it.

“We should therefore treat champagne a little more like beer (by tilting the glass) at least when it comes to serving it,” researchers note.

Champagne and sparkling wine is now often served in flutes, but a few decades ago, it was the norm to serve them in coupes, shallower glasses with a much wider aperture. “But to be honest, little to no analytical data has ever been brought until quite recently to bear on the age-old dilemma of how these [glass] shapes affect the champagne inside them,” the researchers note.

They were surprised to find little difference in the levels of dissolved CO2 between the flute and the coupe, considering the difference in surface areas between the two glasses.

But bubbles aren’t all good news; they also seem to get people drunk more quickly. In a different study, researchers found alcohol levels to rise much faster among bubbly drinkers.