Champagne bubbles not only give it fizz – they give it unique taste as well

By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent 6:30AM BST 29 Sep 2009Comments

Researchers claim that the stream of bubbles continually transfer flavour from the bottom of the glass to the top, releasing it like an “aerosol” at the surface.

They believe that it is this “aroma lift” that gives the drink its unique flavour and separates it from other wines.

Carbonisation of champagne has always been one of its big selling points as it causes the “pop” of the cork. It also gets the alcohol into the bloodstream more quickly.

Its characteristics have combined to make the drink become a mainstay of celebrations and sell more than 200 million bottles a year.

But now according to the findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists believe the bubbles add to the flavour.

Professor Gerard Liger-Belair, a chemist at Reims University in the Champagne region of France said the bubbles do more than “tickle your nose”.

He said they act like a continuous lift bringing aroma to the surface and then radiating “refreshing aerosols” to the drinker.

The scientists used a technology called ultra-high resolution mass spectrometry to identify the different chemicals in the bubbles released after champagne is poured.

They found dozens of aromatic chemicals were released – many associated with grapes but others with yeast and even saffron.

Bubbles, which are made up primarily of carbon dioxide created by fermentation in the bottle, pick up flavour and aroma molecules during their ascent, pulling them along until they literally explode at the surface, releasing their smell.

Prof Liger-Belair said the bubbles released the “characteristic” aroma of champagne, much like the wind blows in the smell from a foaming sea.

“By drawing a parallel between the fizz of the ocean and the fizz in Champagne wines, our results closely link bursting bubbles and flavour release – supporting the idea rising and collapsing bubbles act as a continuous lift for aromas in every glass of champagne,” he said.

Jonathan Ray, Daily Telegraph wine writer, said: “This is the first time I have heard of research like this but smell is absolutely critical in appreciating wine.

“The bubbles could well give you a bigger hit of the smell.”

Scientists have always been fascinated by the mysterious appeal of champagne ever since the English physician Christopher Merret documented the addition of sugar to wine to make it sparkling in a paper to the Royal Society in 1662.

That was more than 30 years before the monk Dom Perignon was said to have invented the drink.