It Really Is the Bubbles

November 4, 2009

According to a team of researchers with the Laboratory of Enology (wine studies) and Applied Chemistry, University of Reims Champagne?Ardenne, France, the bubbles present in champagne serve a greater purpose than merely popping corks.

According to a team of researchers with the Laboratory of Enology (wine studies) and Applied Chemistry, University of Reims Champagne–Ardenne, France, the bubbles present in champagne serve a greater purpose than merely popping corks. The team’s findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveal that the bubbles drag compounds that activate smell receptors to the surface of the sparkling wine and then shoot them upward, where a taster can easily encounter them. (Although “champagne” technically refers to sparkling wines from the Champagne region of France, all effervescent wines should be subject to the same mechanism.)

Using MS, the chemical makeup of the wine itself was parsed, along with the tiny droplets in the headspace, or the area above the liquid’s surface. Those droplets, or aerosols, spray upward in a fountain and bubbles of dissolved carbon dioxide rise to the surface of the champagne and then burst. The researchers estimate that the typical 0.75-L bottle of champagne contains roughly 5 L of CO2 gas, enough to form tens of millions of bubbles.

Surface-active molecules are then drawn to the gas–liquid interface of the champagne bubbles, which are simply pockets of CO2 gas surrounded by liquid, and are then pulled upward to the surface of the beverage when the bubble rises, where they can meet a taster’s nostrils, enhancing and magnifying the taste and smell of the beverage.