For Better Bubbles, Pour Champagne at an Angle

generic champagne toast. (Image credit: Stock.xchng)

To get the most fizz out of your champagne, a new study recommends holding the glass at an angle while you fill it, rather than pouring the champagne straight down.

The secret is in the bubbles, or more precisely, the dissolved carbon dioxide that creates them once the bottle is uncorked and poured into a glass. There is a lot of carbon dioxide gas dissolved in a standard-sized bottle of champagne – about six times the bottle's volume – and its presence is crucial to creating the sensation we associate with champagne, soda and all carbonated beverages.

For champagne, the concentration of dissolved carbon dioxide not only drives bubble formation, according to French researchers, it also contributes to the smell the beverage develops as it ages, known as bouquet to the more serious drinkers among us. 

Gas exodus

Unfortunately for champagne drinkers, much of the carbon dioxide escapes without creating bubbles. In fact, for every carbon dioxide molecule that turns into a bubble, four others escape directly into the air, according to the researchers.

Since other factors affecting this process, including the age of champagne, have been studied, the researchers, led by Gerard Liger-Belair of the University of Reims, focused on how the drink is poured.

They tested two techniques: the traditional pour, where champagne is poured vertically into a glass, called a flute, and hits the bottom; and what they describe as the "beer-like" way of serving champagne, where the glass is held at an angle, while the drink hits the wall of the flute. In this technique, the glass is gradually tilted upright as it fills.

The researchers measured the concentration of carbon dioxide in the champagne both immediately after uncorking the bottle and after having poured it into the glass. They also used a technique called infrared thermography to visualize the escaping carbon dioxide gas. They looked to see how carbon dioxide loss varied at 39, 54 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit (4, 12 and 18 degrees Celsius).

Pour it like a beer

These tests revealed the best way to serve champagne is to chill it and pour it gently, using the beer-like technique. This technique creates less turbulence (when the drink hits the glass), and hence, allows less carbon dioxide to escape into the air.

The difference was particularly noticeable after champagne at the two lower temperatures, 39 and 54 degrees F, had been poured. Although there was a slight decrease in the dissolved carbon dioxide concentration between 39 and 54 degrees F, the study found a much sharper decline between 54 and 64 degrees F, which the researchers attribute to a change in the viscosity of the drink. (Viscosity is a substance's resistance to flow, with molasses having a high viscosity and water a low one.)

"Would not it be pertinent to revisit the way champagne should be served and especially when champagne and sparkling wines are to be compared in competitions?" the authors wrote in the July issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.   

Wynne Parry
Wynne was a reporter at The Stamford Advocate. She has interned at Discover magazine and has freelanced for The New York Times and Scientific American's web site. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Utah.