Wednesday, August 18, 2010

French physicists prove the proper way to pour champagne

"I baptize you a Frenchman, daring child," French poet Paul Claudel once wrote, "with a dewdrop of champagne on your lips.”

I've always thought of physicists as beer drinkers, but I suppose if you live in France, you're a Champagne drinker whatever your profession. In a paper titled "On the losses of dissolved CO2 during Champagne serving," some French physicists have examined the proper way to pour a glass of bubbly. Apparently these mimosa loving researchers at the Université de Reims thought that determining the best technique to pour your champagne would be a fine use of their lab funds (to which I say 'hooray for populist scientists!').

It turns out that, counter to what the French think about pouring their bubbly into perfectly vertical glasses, physics proves that the same slightly-tilted tactic beer lovers have used for millennia is best for champagne too. Their conclusion might be intuitive, but it flies against hundreds of years of French tradition, and it certainly isn't the way your bartender would pour it.

The "méthod traditionnelle" holds that 9 grams of dissolved CO2 should go into every standard bottle of champagne, but that dissolved amount is equal to 5 liters of gaseous CO2 which must escape once you've popped the top. That's more than six times the actual volume of the bottle fleeing from your drink. And because that carbon dioxide is responsible for releasing the aroma as well as giving your mouth that effervescent feeling bubbly is known for (or in science speak "the chemosensory excitation of nociceptors in the oral cavity"), the more bubbles you keep in the glass the better.

According to their paper, which appears in the ACS Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, they used an infrared thermography technique to image the champagne pouring and show how a standard vertical pour results in a loss of twice the amount of bubbles as a 'beer-like technique.' They also showed that serving your Champagne chilled significantly helps retain its bubbles too.

I doubt this will overthrow years of tradition, but next time you're in France, or some fancy restaurant where they pour your $15 split into a vertical glass, feel free to tell them 'No! You're doing it all wrong.'

On a side note, this is my nominee for the upcoming Ig Nobel Prize in physics.

2 comments:

  1. I’ve been tending bar in Los Angeles for 20+ years and I had didn’t realize that the French insisted on pouring champagne down the center of the flute. I have always poured champagne down the side of the glass because pouring down the center creates too many bubbles and you end up with about a third of a glass; frequently less than that. Pouring gently yields closer to 5/8ths of a glass … and we all know customers want more …

    A second issue – not sure if you meant it literally when you said “popped the top” but I cringed, nevertheless! It drives me crazy to see people do that – event to cheapo champagne. To PROPERLY open champagne you literally resist the pressure against the cork so it comes out slowly. When the cork is out of the bottle, you gently wave over the gasses that escape and give the wine a few seconds to settle.

    And it took a physicist to prove what a cranky old bartender has known all along … go figure.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I’ve been tending bar in Los Angeles for 20+ years and I had didn’t realize that the French insisted on pouring champagne down the center of the flute. I have always poured champagne down the side of the glass because pouring down the center creates too many bubbles and you end up with about a third of a glass; frequently less than that. Pouring gently yields closer to 5/8ths of a glass … and we all know customers want more …

    A second issue – not sure if you meant it literally when you said “popped the top” but I cringed, nevertheless! It drives me crazy to see people do that – even to cheapo champagne. To PROPERLY open champagne you literally resist the pressure against the cork so it comes out slowly. When the cork is out of the bottle, you gently wave over the gasses that escape and give the wine a few seconds to settle.

    And it took a physicist to prove what a cranky old bartender has known all along … go figure.

    ReplyDelete