Bubbles and Flow Patterns in Champagne
Is the fizz just for show, or does it add to the taste of sparkling wines?
Legend has it that the Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon discovered the Champagne method for making sparkling wines more than 300 years ago. As it happens, a paper presented to the Royal Society in London described the Champagne production method in 1662, six years before Pérignon ever set foot in a monastery. In fact, Pérignon was first tasked with keeping bubbles out of wine, as the effervescence was seen as vulgar at the time. But then tastes changed and fizz became fashionable, so Pérignon’s mandate was reversed; he went on to develop many advances in Champagne production, including ways to increase carbonation. In any case, the process was not regularly used in the Champagne region of France to produce sparking wine until the 19th century. Since that time, Champagne has remained the wine of celebration, undoubtedly because of its bubbling behavior.
But what is the exact role of the bubbles? Is it just aesthetics? Do they contribute to only one aspect, or to many aspects, of the subjective final taste? We have been rigorously analyzing Champagne for more than a decade, using the physics of fluids in the service of wine in general and Champagne-tasting science in particular.