The Physics of Champagne

The Physics of Champagne

Champagne is a multicomponent hydroalcoholic system supersaturated with dissolved CO2 gas molecules formed together with ethanol during the second fermentation process. 

Better Bubbles: Did you know that a bottle of champagne (0.75 L) holds about 10 g/L of dissolved CO2. When uncorked, this equals 9 L of gas (6 times the volume of the bottle!) which quickly escapes the supersaturated liquid to form a new thermodynamic equilibrium with air. The quality of champagne is determined by the fineness and abundance of effervescence: the bubbles tickle mechanoreceptors and taste buds in our mouth and carry volatile aromatics to our nose. 

Tradition vs. Science: In bars and restaurants, champagne is poured vertically to hit the bottom of the glass, providing a thick head of foam, which quickly extends up and then progressively collapses during serving. But if champagne is poured like beer, it flows along the inclined edge and progressively fills the flute. Infrared thermography (left image) and measurement of dissolved CO2 (right image), showed that the beer-like method is best, but this scientifically validated method has not been adopted because of prejudice associated with the more plebian beer.  

Chill It: The colder the champagne, the more dissolved CO2 is retained during the pouring step, as seen in the graph. 

Flute or Coupe?: Measurements of CO2 fluxes outgassing from glasses showed significantly higher losses in the coupe than in the flute, providing analytical proof that the flute prolongs the drink’s chill and helps it to retain its effervescence, in contrast with the wide, broad brimmed coupe.

The Glug-Glug Effect: The first few glasses of champagne have less dissolved CO2, so be gracious and wait your turn! This turns out to be due to the onomatopoeic “glug–glug” effect caused by the liquid first flowing rather chaotically out of the bottle, through a succession of jets of liquid and admissions of air bubble, inexorably accelerating the loss of dissolved CO2 concentration through turbulences and bubble entrapment. Later, as the bottle fills with air, the champagne flows out more smoothly retaining more CO2. 

References: On the losses of dissolved CO(2) during champagne serving.

Liger-Belair et al., 2010 J Agric Food Chem. 58:8768-75. 

Monitoring gaseous CO2 and ethanol above champagne glasses: flute versus coupe, and the role of temperature. Liger-Belair et al.,2012 PLoS One. 7:e30628. 

NPR listen/read

#HappyNewYear   #ScienceEveryday  

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105 Responses to The Physics of Champagne

  1. Rajini Rao says:

    Seriously, Dave Cole , this was in a peer reviewed journal. I suspect the authors were having a certain amount of fun at our expense 😉

  2. Rajini Rao says:

    Which is why the traditionalists still pour it straight down I suppose. But the authors of this study argue that the beer method ought to be adopted at least at the professional judging competitions where so much of the score depends on the bubbles. 

    Happy New Year, Feisal Kamil , and to your family too 🙂

  3. Rajini Rao says:

    Cheers, Lucas Frib 🙂 Happy New Year.

  4. Bob Calder says:

    Beer is often poured straight down. Some beers take five minutes to pour because of this. Ask a German or BeerSmith .

  5. Rajini Rao says:

    Is it? Is there a regional preference to the art of pouring, I wonder.

  6. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks, Aida Hazlan . How is 2013 working out so far for you? 🙂

  7. My bottle of Moet et Chandon Imperial is waiting in the fridge as we “speak”

  8. Rajini Rao says:

    Rebecca Raven , ours is chilling as well. Pondering the menu now 🙂

  9. Jim Carver says:

    The more sparkle the better I say. I chill it and treat it carefully so as not to lose any and then pour it down the side. The glass should be sparkling clean also. I’ve made sparkling wine and it’s a lot of trouble to get those bubbles in there, so why discard them so thoughtlessly? 😉

  10. Bob Calder says:

    Rajini Rao the beer is what is regional. Weizens and other highly carbonated beers have different pouring characteristics. The amount of sugar and the substances that make for a creamy head (as in a stout) are also important. Beer should always have a one to two finger head. Beer is more like Moscato d’Asti with low alcohol, a lot of sugar and benefits from not being too cold because you need to be able to smell it.  The real reason I stopped to read your post was because I was wondering if anyone used N as in some stouts. It has a really fine bubble.

  11. Rajini Rao says:

    Interesting point about washing the glasses, Jim Carver . The papers I read made a big deal about this, and I quote: 

    In order to avoid the randomly located “bubbling environment” inevitably provided in glasses showing natural effervescence, we decided to serve champagne in flutes etched on their bottom, such as those used in recent papers.(20-22) Between the successive pourings and data recordings, flutes were thoroughly washed in a dilute aqueous formic acid solution, rinsed using distilled water, and then compressed air dried. This drastic treatment forbids formation of calcium carbonate crystals on the flute wall as well as adsorption of any dust particle acting as “natural” bubble nucleation sites, so that bubble nucleation is strictly restricted to ring-shaped etching, thus providing a standardized effervescence.

  12. Rajini Rao says:

    Cheers, and Happy New Year, Todd Settimo !

  13. Jim Carver says:

    Rajini Rao Yep, bubble nucleation sites is correct. I was trying to think of a term but became distracted because I need to go to the liquid store. 😉

  14. Rajini Rao says:

    Feisal Kamil , I thought of trying black eyed peas and greens because they are supposed to be good luck (a Southern US tradition), but I seem to have run out of black eyed peas and it’s too chilly to venture out. So some sort of pasta with pesto, since I have plenty of basil. Just baked banana pecan bread so I could test drive a pretty new loaf pan. Did you have a good NYE dinner..out or in?

  15. Rajini Rao says:

    Happy New Year, Ali Adelstein , all the Best!

    Jim Carver , liquids, eh? I guess you’re not replenishing your bottled water supply. 😉

  16. Chad Haney says:

    Next time you’re in the Bay Area, check out the tour at Korbels. I think it’s informative and tasty.

  17. Love these sci posts Rajini Rao !

  18. Rajini Rao says:

    Sounds cozy and fun, Feisal Kamil . Mum off to China, right?

    Thanks, Jack C Crawford . It was a good excuse to combine bubbles and physics for the New Year. Have a great 2013! 

  19. Chad Haney says:

    Straddling “plebeian” beer and  champagne: Geuze Cuvée René

  20. Bob Calder says:

    How about Raspberry Lambic?

  21. Rajini Rao says:

    Chad Haney have you tried it, sounds interesting. I’m not much of a beer fan, so I might like a “sherry-like flavoured beer”.

  22. HEhehe … lovely Rajini Rao … ^^

    Cheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeers … 😉

  23. Chad Haney says:

    Yes to Raspberry Lambic.

    Rajini Rao yes I have. I think I posted a while back that someone ticked me off to ruin my enjoyment of a bottle of Geuze Cuvée René. It taste more like wine than a Lambic.

    Feisal Kamil I don’t know yet. I invited a friend over for beer but haven’t heard back yet.

  24. Chad Haney says:

    Thanks Feisal Kamil Happy New Year (or Halloween) to you and your family.

  25. Rajini Rao says:

    I’ll have to try it then, and the Raspberry Lambic. So little time, so much to drink try 😛 

  26. Now that I am suitably under the bubbly , it all makes sense , even the glug glug effect .. I wish you a splendid 2013, may all your scientific problems solve themselves, and the most enviable of good luck be your constant companion!

  27. Rajini Rao says:

    Goodnight, Feisal Kamil , I’ll talk to you next year. Happy New Year, Chad Haney !

  28. Rajini Rao says:

    Suhail Manzoor , those are the best wishes any scientist could hope for (could you throw in a grant or two?). Cheers to you, I’ll be raising a glass myself in about 6 hours. Happy New Year!

  29. Now explain why champagne gives me a terrible headache the next day.

  30. Chad Haney says:

    Goodnight Feisal Kamil Happy New Year to you and your family Rajini.

  31. Mary T says:

    Happy New Year Rajini Rao ~

  32. Rajini Rao says:

    James Karaganis from dehydration or allergy to sulfites, most likely. 

    Happy New Year to you too, dear Mara Rose 🙂

  33. Rajini Rao Hm. I always drink plenty of water so I suppose I must be allergic to sulfites. Bummer.

    And yes, a Happy New Year to you!

  34. Rajini Rao says:

    I’d better start hydrating right now, James Karaganis 😉 Happy New Year to you too.

    And to you, dear Peter Lindelauf ! Here’s hoping for a new year filled with gardens, boats and the best of family times. 

  35. Mike Byrnes says:

    Rajini Rao you can reall throw a party! Happy New Year to all.

  36. Rajini Rao says:

    Cheers and Happy New Year, Mike Byrnes 🙂

  37. Jim Carver says:

    As a side note, N-acetyl cysteine may be helpful in combating a hangover before you start drinking as it is a precursor for glutathione, …”one of the body’s most important natural antioxidants. In the liver, glutathione binds to toxins and transforms them into compounds that can be excreted in the bile or urine. The liver’s supply of glutathione may be exhausted by binding to carcinogens produced during alcohol detoxification by the liver. The direct conjugation of acetaldehyde and glutathione has been observed in acute models of alcohol ingestion. When depleted by chronic alcohol ingestion, glutathione becomes unavailable for ordinary regulatory processes.”

    “N-acetylcysteine offers promising therapeutic value to inhibit ethanol-induced adverse effects. Ethanol withdrawal had beneficial effects on serum lipids, but was more effective when coupled with NAC supplementation. Ethanol abstinence and NAC intake interact synergistically, improving serum lipids and hepatic antioxidant defenses.”

  38. Rajini Rao says:

     N-acetyl cysteine is an excellent antioxidant; we use it on cells to counter free radical damage in studies of oxidative stress. 

  39. Jim Carver says:

    Rajini Rao Cool, I guess it’s also the drug of choice when treating acute acetaminophen poisoning. 

  40. Chad Haney says:

    It’s used as an antidote for a lot of overdoses.

  41. Jim Carver says:

    Chad Haney I’ve been learning a lot about xenobiotic metabolism lately. It’s almost, but not quite over my head. 😉

  42. Jim Carver says:

    Gnotic Pasta You should be able to buy it over the counter as a nutritional supplement. Seems to work better when taken with vit. C.

  43. Arizona Bob says:

    Great article Rajini Rao ! I will have to try some of these experiments at home 🙂 Cheers & Happy New Year!

  44. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks, Arizona Bob , and much cheer and good luck to you in the coming year!

  45. Arizona Bob says:

    Thanks, Rajini Rao You too! Next year is looking good! Hope you have a wonderful celebration planned for this evening and a fantastic year to come!

  46. It’s very good info Rajini Rao………. But I wanted more! 

    Champagne can only be called Champagne when (under an EU directive) it come’s from the Champagne Region of France.

    And, Champagne, is only the top few inches in the vat from the finest wine that that region produces.  

    Still very cool info though. 🙂

  47. Chad Haney says:

    Did you learn that at bar tending school?

  48. Kunal Rohit says:

    I was told once that dusty or unpollished glass give more bubbles.can that be scientificly proved ?

    A little trivia – the champagne saucer was designed to resemble the breast of the wife of Louise XVI.

  49. should it be Physics of Champagne or Chemistry of Champagne because I studied relationship b/w the temperature of the liquid and the amount of gas dissolved in chemistry… anyways happy new year Rajini Rao 

  50. Jim Tipping says:

    Good to know, but I suddenly feel much less bubbly… 😛 

  51. Louis Greer says:

    Bore off! Just drink it!

  52. Rajini Rao says:

    Leon Chevalier , You’re right…there’s plenty more. Here’s the story of Dom Perignon: a nearly blind Benedictine monk, he was a cellar master in an abbey who worried that the cooler climate of northern France was making paler wines, that had the odd property of fermenting a second time when the summer came around. This resulted in “bulles” (bubbles) that were considered a serious defect. Dom Perignon continued experimenting until one day, he tested the new lighter bubbly wine and exclaimed “Come quickly, brothers! I’m tasting stars!” Legend has it that he had to change to stronger bottles and use corks as stoppers to contain the explosive bubbles 🙂

  53. Rajini Rao says:

    Tsk, Louis Greer , how very un-geeky of you 😉

  54. Jim Carver says:

    This section describes a method for ridding the bottle of the lees (spent yeast sediment). They have automated machines now that do this, but the home winemaker has to use a cold brine solution. Not easy and I remember making a big mess until I got the hang of it.

  55. Rajini Rao says:

    Interesting that ridding the bottle of lees is called “riddling”.

    +1 for Champagne vocabulary.

  56. Jim Carver says:

    That was the time my wife, at the time, said that if I was going to continue with these projects, I would need my own kitchen. Which I thought was an odd statement since I did all the cooking anyway. 😉

  57. Rajini Rao says:

    Perhaps she viewed the kitchen as repository for fine cookware or part of the home’s decor? 😀

  58. Jim Carver says:

    I think so…and a place to make her coffee. Well, I did finally teach her how to cook and then she found her own kitchen. haha

  59. Rajini Rao says:

    Haha, oh well. There’s one more person in the world who can cook and that can’t be a bad thing 🙂

  60. Jim Carver says:

    That’s a super amount of work to do it that way. I just wanted to see if I could do it. It’s a labor of love really because you can buy it much easier and sometimes better depending what you are willing to spend. It’s nice to say here try this, I made it.

    Not something for someone who has never made wine either. One time I got lucky with some rose hips that we gathered on our ranch…no recipe and used boiling water extraction. Added sugar, yeast and tasted for acid. When it was done I put it up and forgot about it for two years and it went through a secondary malo-lactic fermentation and got sparkle! That was the best stuff, it cleared beautiful, was silky pink rose. You could probably never buy that and with all the vit. C in there nobody ever got a hangover. Of course things like that are seldom if ever reproducible. I may try sometime though.

  61. Happy New Year to ALL of you!

    I am enjoying that you are all enjoying :-).

    Not a alcohol drinker myself but I am enjoying the post and all comments.

  62. Rajini Rao says:

    Happy 2013, mandar khadilkar ! Bubble physics would apply to soft drinks too 🙂

  63. Shawn Huston says:

    Can I have your Permission  to post this to my FB page?

  64. Rajini Rao says:

    Of course! Feel free to share anywhere, Shawn Huston . I’m glad you are having fun with it.

  65. Rajini Rao says:

    This is a great collection of non-alcoholic cheer:

  66. Rajini Rao says:

    Anything with cream of coconut is delicious!

  67. Talking about coconut cream-I still remember Summer in Mumbai at VT Station having fresh coconut (cream and water) at the cost a student like me in Eng can afford.

    I have not tasted such a drink ever after that….lil nostalgic ……..Rajini Rao

    Any idea why fresh cut coconut water is sooooo refreshing? I guess I could just Google it, right? I heard that it has good mineral balance.

  68. Rajini Rao says:

    mandar khadilkar  fresh coconut water is an excellent blend of minerals and salts..may even be isotonic. It’s actually become really popular in the’s found in cartons and packaged in Fiji or Brazil. It’s a shame that India does not export tender coconut water..we certainly have it in abundance.

  69. Rajini Rao I see the coconut cartons and cans all over Walgreen and all super markets but still the coconut taken from the tree (we have coconut palms in our garden in Nasik back there) used to have the freshness.

    Why I bring that up here is that the gases dissolved into liquids is very enjoyable and related to the flavor.

    I even heard that onions freshly minced have different chemistry than a stale.

    So, the carton variety of coconut is not that enjoyable.

  70. Jim Carver says:

    Suzanne told me they had to replace coconut water for IV solution in a wartime situation somewhere. I’ll have to ask her where. Anyway it kept them alive.

    I just like the water mostly…not that packaged flaked stuff. The fresh “meat” is okay.

  71. Rajini Rao says:

    I’ve heard the IV story too, don’t know if it’s true. It would have to be sterile and isotonic.

  72. Rajini Rao says:

    That’s the way we have it, back in India, Feisal. We flag down a coconut cart on wheels, and the vendor chops off the top and hands it to us with a straw. As a bonus, when we are done, he hacks it in half and fashions a scoop from the shell so we can eat the very soft/jelly like flesh. It’s so cheap too.

  73. Feisal Kamil You are right….

  74. Rajini Rao says:

    Sometimes we mix the tender coconut flesh with jaggery (unrefined cane/date palm sugar)…mmm.

    Have a date then,

    Jan Costantini 🙂

  75. Rajini Rao says:

    Really? Boy, that brings back memories of my college days in the convent. The nuns were too cheap to put real sugar in our morning coffee, so we had it with jaggery instead. It was quite distinctive! 

  76. Jim Carver says:

    Hmm, sounds like I’ve never had a real one. Those sound good. I found a chart for composition here:

    Well it’s from their trade site so ya know. They also claim the emergency use. The pH seems to be kind of low…but maybe.

  77. Bill Collins says:

    Wayyy better than the average New Year’s post!

  78. NEY MELLO says:

    Rajini Rao Have an explosively fun hydroalcoholic New Year! May the cork miss you!  😀 😀 😀

  79. Happy New year Rajini Rao Cheers for the great year ahead


  81. Rajini Rao says:

    Happy New Year, thanks everyone. Happily the cork did miss and so did the hangovers 🙂 

    NEY MELLO , According to the American Association of Opthamology, champagne corks can travel at 50 mph and are the most common cause of eye related injuries during the holidays. 

    Their recommendations: Chill the bottle, don’t shake it, hold it at 45 degree away from you and anyone else, cover the cork with a towel and twist the bottle to break the seal.

  82. Sangi Malk says:

    Happy New year Rajani.

  83. Timely info! Happy New Year Rajini Rao! 

  84. Rajini Rao says:

    Rashid Moore , that song, like tiny bubbles, made me feel warm all over 🙂

    Happy New Year to my G+ friends, Sangita Mallick, David Crowley , Joel Colon Feliciano , guruprasad .g.l , Jan Costantini CHAND BABU Bairathi . Cheers!

  85. surya chawla says:

    1st Happy New Year

    2nd How r u Rajini Rao 🙂

  86. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks, I’m fine and happy new year to you too, surya chawla .

  87. surya chawla says:

    Ya thanks long time no see

  88. Hmm.  Interesting share Rajini Rao   So if pouring Champagne releases the CO2 that was removed from the atmosphere during fermentation… Eureka… we can do our part for the planet…  I saw an old ICBM silo for sale on eBay, so… if each of you send me a bottle of the bubbly, I promise to store them deep underground.  In a cool / dry / dark room.  And won’t open any.  Except perhaps once a year.  OK, maybe once a month. …Week? :))

    Happy New Year everyone.

  89. Rajini Rao says:

    John Christopher , I salute your selfless act of sacrifice to save the planet! Since this is the New Year, I hereby resolve to assist you in your noble endeavor by consuming as much CO2 in its supersaturated hydroalcoholic state before it is released into the atmosphere to cause melting of the arctic ice caps and orphaning of polar bear cubs. Happy New hic Year!

  90. Léa Jay says:

    Happy New Year, Rajini Rao ! :))

  91. Parmod Kumar says:

    cool……. H N Y 2013

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