Fabulous Fizz: How Bubbles Make Champagne Burst With Flavor

By Eliza Strickland | September 29, 2009 10:13 am

champagneScientists have found another reason why the fizz in a glass of champagne is so important: Besides tickling the tongue and pleasing the eye, the bubbles also release aromatic compounds that they’ve dragged up from the liquid in the glass. A new study found that concentrations of certain chemical compounds are higher in the air just above the glass than in the actual champagne.

Wine expert Jamie Goode comments: “In the past, we thought that the carbon dioxide in the bubbles just gave the wine an acidic bite and a little tingle on the tongue, but this study shows that it is much more than this” [BBC News]. Smelling the chemical compounds enhances the overall flavor of the champagne, researchers say.

The phenomenon of the champagne bubbles is similar to the process that takes place at the seashore, where compounds called surfactants are dragged along with bubbles in the waves. When those bubbles burst, the surfactants break into smaller molecules called aerosols that are suspended in the breeze, giving coastal areas their distinctive oceany odor [Scientific American].

For the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers used an ultra-high resolution mass spectrometer to study the detailed chemical composition of the aerosols emerging from sparkling wine and champagne [BBC News]. Future experiments could try to determine which specific aerosols are present in the best champagnes, which could help winemakers produce more aromatic and delicious beverages.

Related Content:
80beats: Chemistry Experiment Produces the Ultimate Wine Taster
DISCOVER: Sliced: Building a Better Bubbly

Image: Alain Cornu/collection CIVC

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology
  • YouRang

    This isn’t the point of this article; but acidity also changes the taste of bipolar ions, drawing charge from the alkaline end. So it’s not really true that carbonic acid only adds bite to the taste. (All water (even filtered) tastes like mold at room temp to us super tasters; but seltzer is drinkable at room temp but is also even better cold.) I might add that those bubbles are also going to burst in your mouth freeing up flavor into the aroma sensors in the back of your nasal passages.
    This experiment should have been obvious (at least to people who have drunk Vernor’s ginger ale). Most people choke on bringing fresh Vernor’s to their mouths; but flat Vernor’s (if you like the taste) won’t tickle your nasal cavity.

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