How many bubbles in a glass of champagne?
As in so many things to do with wine there are dozens of stories circulating about champagne and there are almost as many different opinions as there are champagne drinkers, however one thing that almost everyone will agree on is that a flat glass of champagne with no bubbles is NOT want you want, but how many bubbles are there in a glass of champagne and what it the ‘ right’ number? People have been trying to answer this questions for a long time.
In the late 1980s Moet & Chandon and Heineken - two giants of the bubble business – conducted a joint research project to study the formation of bubbles in their respective beverages.
Although the equipment used was no doubt state-of-the-art in those days, it still looked a bit basic – a glass sided box in which an open bottle of champagne rested on a cradle that could be tilted mechanically to pour the champagne into a glass positioned below. All around the box was an array of cameras that took hundreds of pictures of the bubbles as they formed in the glass whilst the process was bathed in a sort of stroboscopic flashing light to slow down the motion while the cameras clicked away – much the same sensation as being in a 1970s discotheque.
When all the data from the photos had been downloaded into a computer and analysed, the conclusion was that there was an average of 250 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne, so I suppose that means about one 6th of that number in a glass, or about 40 million bubbles in one glass.
Then in 2006/2007 a scientist by the name of Bill Lembeck came up with a different answer by calculating the volume of CO2 in a 75 cl bottle of Champagne and dividing this number by the volume of an average bubble. It was bit more complicated than that as you might imagine, but the end result was that Mr. Lembeck reckoned there were just 49 million bubbles per bottle, or on the same basis as above, about 8 million bubbles per glass.
So far, so confusing.
Is there anyone who can be trusted to give us the real facts of the matter?
Well, there is such a person: his name is Gérard Liger-Belair and he’s a physicist and a professor at the University de Reims in the heart of the Champagne region. His specialist subject is the study of the science of effervescence.
The importance of fizz, more technically known as effervescence, in sparkling wines and champagnes is not to be underestimated -- it contributes to the complete sensory experience of a glass of bubbly: the look, the taste, and the aromas, not to mention the sensation it produces in your mouth, or mouthfeel as it is sometimes called.
Taking into consideration temperature, bubble dynamics and the tilt of a flute, Liger-Belair came up with a new way to calculate the number of bubbles in a glass of champagne and the result is far lower than what had been believed previously. "One million bubbles seems to be a reasonable approximation” said M. Liger-Belair and if the professor says 1 million, that’s good enough for me.
Even though the currently accepted figure for the number of bubbles in a single glass of champagne is far lower than had been though previously, there’s no need to be disappointed; even a paltry million bubbles is plenty to give your champagne its characteristic sparkle. Besides, some people prefer it if their champagne is a little less bubbly and they attach more importance to the size of the bubbles rather than the number of bubbles.
Does the size matter, or is this just another myth? You can discover the answer in part 2 of this article.