Champagne's Flavor is Actually in its Bubbles
BBCNews (28 September 2009) — It is champagne's bubbles which give the drink flavour and fizz, and glasses that promote bubbles will improve the drinking experience, scientists say. Research shows there are up to 30 times more flavour-enhancing chemicals in the bubbles than in the rest of the drink. Wine experts say the finding changes completely our understanding of the role of bubbles in sparkling drinks.
The study is reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
Commenting on the research, Dr Jamie Goode, founder of wineanorak.com, said: "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."
According to Dr Goode, the research demonstrates that using fluted glasses for sparkling wine and champagne is more than simply a matter of etiquette.
"Glasses that encourage more bubbles to come up are going to be better," he says. "At the bottom of proper champagne glasses, they put a little bit of (rough) glass, which encourages the nucleation of the flow of bubbles."
Essence of champagne
Dr Gerard Liger-Belair of Reims University, France, is one of the authors of the PNAS report. He said: "It's the very first time that we have been able to detect the fine chemistry of champagne aerosols which are really the essence of champagne."
Dr Liger-Belair admits to having been "obsessed" with bubbles all his life. He used an ultra-high resolution mass spectrometer to study the detailed chemical composition of the aerosols emerging from sparkling wine and champagne.
"The flavour of sparkling wine is determined by the contribution of hundreds and hundreds of different components. We have to detect which of these components are important in the aerosols."
Dr Liger-Belair and his colleague Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin, of the Institute for Ecological Chemistry and Molecular BioGeochemistry in Neuherberg, have studied five champagnes and high-quality sparkling wines so far.
They discovered that in all cases the bubbles were very much richer in the essential flavours of the wine.
According to Dr Goode, the findings may explain why champagnes and sparkling wines produced using the "champagne method" taste so nice.
"It seems that the traditional champagne method ensures that there is a fine stream of bubbles, which, presumably, will give you a more enduring aromatic lift."
The next stage of the research is to compare the raw scientific data with the subjective reactions of expert wine tasters to discover the precise chemicals in the bubbles that give the best tasting drink, and then to explore the possibility of making champagne and sparkling wines taste even better.