Bigger bubbles could make your champagne taste better this Christmas, research has found.
It was long thought that a steady stream of tiny bubbles in a glass of champagne was a sign of quality. But researchers in France’s Champagne-Ardenne region have found that larger bubbles may actually improve the way a sparkling wine tastes.
Bigger bubbles – about 3.4mm across at the surface – dramatically enhance the release of aerosols into the air above the glass, the experts found. It means important aromatic compounds that give champagne its distinctive smell and flavour are flung into drinkers’ noses when they take a sip.
Look closer at nativity paintings – and see visions of apocalypse
Jonathan Jones Read more
Prof Gérard Liger-Belair, a physicist at the University of Reims, who led the research, said: “This result is remarkable as it undermines the popular belief that the smaller the bubbles, the better the champagne. Small bubbles were the worst in terms of aroma release.”
About 1m bubbles form in the average glass of champagne, according to Liger-Belair. They are a result of dissolved carbon dioxide, which forms in the wine due to a second fermentation process that occurs during production inside the sealed bottles.
Using high-speed photography and imaging techniques, Liger-Belair and his colleagues have been able to study precisely what happens to a champagne bubble.
In a study published in the European Physical Journal Special Topics, they show that the bubbles form a regular hexagonal pattern on the surface. When one collapses, it creates a cavity that stretches the neighbouring bubbles, producing a pattern that looks similar to the petals of a flower, creating an avalanche of tiny droplets that are thrown into the air at the top of the glass.
Wine experts often use bubble size as a marker of quality, with larger bubbles found in cheap sparkling wines such as prosecco and cava.
Liger-Belair said bubble size in champagne and sparkling could vary from between 0.4mm and 4mm across. The viscosity of the drink and the glass it is poured into could all influence how big the bubbles were. But bubbles with a radius of 1.7mm across resulted in the highest number of droplets evaporating at the surface of the drink.
He said the research could help lead to innovations that could improve the taste of sparkling wines. “We showed that decreasing champagne viscosity would improve drop evaporation,” said Liger-Belair. “Additives that would change wine viscosity without changing the taste might be used. These results pave the way towards fine tuning of champagne aroma diffusion.”
The stories you need to read, in one handy email
It is the latest in a long line of research by Liger-Belair and his colleagues. They have shown that chilling champagne can help to reduce the amount of alcohol carried in each bubble, which can prevent more delicate flavours from being overpowered.
Cooling a bottle of champagne to 4C (39F) can help reduce the speed of the cork as it leaves the bottle, preventing accidents, the team found. Tilting the glass when pouring can also help prevent it from overflowing.
Drinking from a flute rather than a wider glass can help to enhance the flavour because of how bubbles mix in a glass. Liger-Belair said: “Bubbles in a glass of champagne may seem like the acme of frivolity to most people, but in fact they may be considered a fantastic playground for any fluid physicist.”/The Guardian