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The Science of Sparkle

bubbles.jpgIt still comes as quite a surprise to me just how much high-tech investigation goes on about the bubbles in Champagne. Physicists and material scientists can't be blamed, however, for preferring discussions of laminar flow and fluid dynamics in the context of a glass of sparkling wine rather than, say, diesel outboard motor exhaust in freshwater lakes.

A few months ago I brought you the latest findings on why and how bubbles actually form in Champagne. This month, courtesy of Harold McGee and his blog, News for Curious Cooks, we now know more about how the shape of the champagne glass affects effervescence.

Of critical concern to those who get paid to think about such things, there is apparently a very real effect on how quickly a champagne effervesces in the glass that is determined by the ratio of the diameter of the glass itself and the height of the glass. These physical properties determine the rate that the carbon dioxide gas leaves solution to form the pleasing sparkle that we all know and love.

And they figured it out by adding tiny little reflective beads to a bottle of champagne, pouring the doctored solution into glasses and shooting laser beams through them. Cool, eh?

I can't say I fully understand it all, but if there are smarter people than I out there engineering a better champagne drinking experience, more power to them. Incidentally, I'm still waiting for someone to come up with some real research results like this that show how subtle variations glass shape really affect the experience of drinking still wine.

Thanks to Jack at Fork and Bottle for the tip.

Comments (7)

Jack wrote:
01.28.07 at 2:45 PM

"I'm still waiting for someone to come up with some real research results like this that show how subtle variations glass shape really affect the experience of drinking still wine."

Me, too!

01.28.07 at 8:57 PM

Don't know about the beer guy scratching the bottom of his beer glass but Riedel uses that same principle by laser edging a circle at the base of their Champagne glasses. Some real research on the shape of a glass affecting the wine experience? Don't know if this qualifies but a few years ago Riedel produced an Icewine glass,still available (Inniskillin, Ontario, had to order 50,000 of them before Riedel would proceed on producing a glass suitable for Icewine) . There is a distinct differnce between Ontario and British Columbia Icewines. Ontario has hot and humid days and nights, British Columbia has hot days and cool nights and thereby bringing up delicious fruit flavors while maintaining good acid levels. Ontario mostly uses the Vidal grape and Rieslings because of their natural higher acid levels. BC can use and does make Icewine with almost all the varietals grown in BC, including some incredible Merlot and Pinot Noir Icewines. I set up a panel of local wine experts, including the world's foremost authority on Icewines, John Schreiner. We tasted three BC Icewines and one Ontario Icewine. The long and the short of it was, that five out of the six panelists agreed that the shape and size of the Riedel Icewine glass was not suitable for the BC Icewines but all agreed that it suited the Ontario Icewine. I made some recommendations to Riedel but since I was just a retailer of wine and accessories, I could not afford the 50,000 wine glass order required to produce a glass for British Columbia Icewines. Glass shape and size does make a difference.

Alder wrote:
01.29.07 at 11:02 AM


Thanks for the comments. I think pretty much everyone agrees that the shape of the glass affects the aromas, but the real question is whether the shape of the glass really affects how the wine tastes.

I'm in the skeptics camp and will be until someone provides research like this champagne study.

Whit Stevens wrote:
01.29.07 at 11:28 AM

"but the real question is whether the shape of the glass really affects how the wine tastes."

But doesn't smell (and even appearance) effect our perception of taste?

Alder wrote:
01.29.07 at 11:49 AM

For sure, but what is interesting is that the glass companies all suggest that the shape of their glasses change the way that wine tastes because of how they "deliver the liquid to the tongue" and rarely mention anything about aroma.

Even if glasses do change the aroma of a wine (which I can personally verify but have seen no scientific studies on) how much does that affect the flavor? After all, once we taste something it's in our mouth and out of the glass.

As for appearance (and other psychological factors) hopefully the authors of future studies in this area will do them blind.

01.29.07 at 7:39 PM

I would like to add one further comment. I have conducted some Riedel "glass" tastings. Pour some wine in a styrofoam cups. Everyone will agree your wine will taste pretty horrid. Now lets say we are tasting a Cabernet, Merlot or blend. Use inexpensive restaurant glasses and pour some of the same wine into them. Smell and taste. Now try the same wine in a Riedel Vinum Bordeaux. Everyone will agree there is a aroma(bouquet) difference. Now to really appreciate the difference pour the wine you have just tasted in the Riedel glass back into the restaurant glass. Smell and taste again. You will get a shocking difference. Both smell and taste appear to be affected.

Nancy wrote:
02.04.07 at 3:05 PM

"...the shape and size of the Riedel Icewine glass was not suitable for the BC Icewines but all agreed that it suited the Ontario Icewine."

"...not suitable"? Wow! Have we become such hot-house flowers? Good stemware is a lovely option, but I once heard Robert Mondavi say (to George Riedel, and with a smile) that his wine would taste good out of a soup cup! Of course he agreed that it tasted even better from the Riedel, but let's not get too too... :-)

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