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On Tasting
Why You Drink Champagne by the Sea
Thursday, 8th October, 2009  - David Farmer

Champagne and sparkling wines have lovely aromas. Just published is a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science titled; Unravelling different chemical fingerprints between a champagne wine and its aerosols.

After you uncork Champagne, until it is degassed, or flat, 1,000,000,000 or a billion bubbles, on average 0.5 mm in dimension burst at the surface. As they swirl up the glass about 100 compounds attach themselves to the bubbles, note not inside the bubbles which I take it are just carbon dioxide, and are swept to the surface. Of these about 10 have very attractive aromas. Thus the champagne liquid is different to the surface where the bubbles burst into an aerosol concentrated in these molecules.

The study also notes that a similar aerosol occurs at the ocean surface as waves break and froth and this action releases a concentration of molecules that have also hitched a ride on bubbles to the surface. This is the salty smell of the sea.

This research was lead by Gerard Liger-Belair who has been working on Champagne bubbles for some time. In 2004 he released, Uncorked The Science of Champagne which is more fun than the title may suggest.

I cannot resist quoting a small part and include a diagram which shows you why Champagne bubbles all over the place, and gets up your nose.


Schematic representation of the liquid streams around a collapsing bubble cavity-leading to the projection of a tiny jet of liquid above the Champagne surface.

"Immediately after rupture of the bubble cap, the region around the cavity becomes an area of positive curvature. This causes a ring of high pressure around the sides of the open cavity. At the same time, the underside of the cavity becomes a region of negative curvature, and this area is a comparatively low-pressure zone. As a result...fluid is drawn rapidly from the sides to the bottom of the cavity, where it collides on the axis of symmetry. This collision produces a region of high pressure on the underside of the cavity that serves to push fluid upward in a liquid jet."

Let us return to the sea side. Over the last few years Professor Andy Johnston of the University of East Anglia has been studying the smell of the sea. The main aroma component is dimethyl sulphide or DMS which is produced by bacteria and like Champagne is released as an aerosol by churning waves. Now DMS is derived from the breakdown of dimethylsulfoniopropionate or DMSP which photo plankton make though why and the full chemical pathway I take it is not well understood. Incidentally as this is broken down seabirds hover around as fish may be present eating the plankton. We do not want too much DMS as it smells of rotting seaweed or cabbage but in the right concentration we love the aroma and flock to the sea-side for the embracing invigorating impact.

I have always felt that drinking fine Champagne by the sea side always has more appeal than for example in a restaurant and have wondered if the combined aromas are not working some special alchemy. Then again it may be because you are more relaxed being at the beach or on a boat.

* Please note: Brother Richard has already written an article on this new research. I continue with a different angle.

** With thanks to Jon T. Xtreme Fisho for the use of his Kimberley photograph.

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