Pouring champagne like beer is advised in the press today, but there's a lot more to the bubbles than making it fizzy.
Bubbly describes both a drink and a man, and both come from Champagne.
The wine, its invention famously attributed to monk Dom Perignon in the 17th century, needs no introduction. The man is Gérard Liger-Belair, the foremost researcher in the science of bubbles at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, France. He bubbles to the surface of the media on a reasonably frequent basis.
Champagne is quite a media-friendly topic of science, of course, and Liger-Belair's latest discovery - the definitive pouring method for optimum taste - popped up on the Beeb yesterday and in some papers this morning.
Champagne: how not to pour it
Pour down the side of the glass to limit the generation of big bubbles, said Liger-Belair, in a statement restaurateurs called "unsurprising". The Associated Press reports the scientists say "pouring bubbly at a slant, as you ~would a beer, preserves more of the tiny gas bubbles that improve the drink's flavour and aromas."
Unsurprising this may be, but the science of champagne is complex and fascinating. The key to champagne's crisp taste is not necessarily about acids, sugars and alcohols in the bulk liquid. Liger-Belair found much of the depth of flavour comes from the bubbles themselves, which contain 30 times more flavour chemicals than the rest of the drink, as the BBC reported in 2008. And there are so many more interesting little facts about champagne bubbles...
There are 20 million potential bubbles locked away in the five litres of CO2 released from a standard size 75cl bottle. If you're interested - and I know you are, really - I just worked out literally on the back of an envelope that in 2007 champagne accounted for 0.000011% of global CO2 emissions. That's 3240 tonnes, about the same as 550 homes or your average European hotel.
Closer to home, if my slightly sketchy figures (based on estimates of consumption from 2004) are to be believed, champagne accounted for a whopping 0.000073% of British CO2 emissions in the same period. A hectare of rainforest stores the same amount of CO2 per year (400 tonnes) as British-opened champagne releases. It's also the same carbon footprint as the 2007 Sunderland Air Show. But I digress.
3.9 degrees C, or 39F, is the ideal temperature to serve champagne. Cooler bubbles are smaller, so stay in the wine and make for a fizzier (and tastier) drink. We're talking standard temperature and pressure, of course; if you were to toast with champagne your arrival at Mount Everest's summit, the bubbles' size would be four times that of regular sea-level drinkers' booze. If Neil and Buzz had cracked out the Krug in the Apollo's Lunar module, they'd have enjoyed thrice the bubble volume as their NASA colleagues at ground zero.
But the bubbles don't just form all by themselves. If you poured champagne into a perfectly clean and smooth glass, it wouldn't fizz up at all. The CO2 molecules dissolved in the wine need to aggregate to make bubbles, and for that they need a starting point. Microscopic scratches that trap gas are the main "nucleation sites" where bubbles start.
The bubbles accelerate upwards, expanding by picking up more gas as they go. When they do reach the top, they burst in an explosion of flavour molecules, making the complex taste and smell of champagne all the more vivid.
It's possibly the most chemistry you could possibly cram into a drink, even taking into account the impressive beverage engineering of Red Bull and its market copycats. But rather than being carefully designed by formulation chemists, champagne was supposedly a wonderful accident, with Dom Perignon exclaiming "come quickly, I am drinking the stars!" to his fellow brothers.
In fact this all appears to be a myth: there's no evidence of the "stars" quote until it was used for advertising in the late 19th century and, according to a seminal text on the subject, sparkling wine's origins are in England.
17th century scientist Christopher Merret presented to the Royal Society his writings on the addition of sugar to wines, making them "brisk and sparkling". This secondary fermentation technique relied on the recent advances in glassmaking from the Newcastle factories, as none before could produce bottles that wouldn't shatter under such increased pressure.
The author of this fine book, predictably, is Gérard Liger-Belair, the bubbly Champagne scientist.