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Does Champagne Smell Better Than It Tastes?

September 29, 2009

A team of researchers in Europe have discovered that the aroma of champagne is experienced through the mist of bursting bubbles wafting from the drink.

“I love the idea that such a wonderful and subtle mechanism acts right under our nose during champagne tasting. In a single champagne glass, there is as much food for the mind as pleasure for your senses,” said researcher Gerard Liger-Belair of the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne in France.

Liger-Belair and his colleagues used high-resolution mass spectrometry to study the chemicals in champagne and other sparkling wines and in the bubbles and the mist they produce.

This study is the most detailed observation of how the very familiar aroma of sparkling wines got there to begin with, the researchers said.

Some of the chemicals that render the distinct toasty, fruity aromas to the drink are encapsulated by the bubbles and actually rise to the surface in higher concentrations than what is found in the wine itself, they report in Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Liger-Belair explained that it is very similar to the way the bursting bubbles on the sea fill the surrounding air with the distinct scent of the ocean.

“Actually, bubbles trapped by the sea breakers action considerably increase exchange surfaces between the sea bulk and the atmosphere,” he said.

Bubbles effectively pull chemicals up with them through the liquid to the surface of the sea before bursting and emitting aerosol droplets into the air.

“Air bubbles trapped during rough sea conditions were found to increase specific organic concentrations in marine aerosols by several orders of magnitude compared with those found in the liquid,” he said.

This naturally draws the question of whether champagne smells better than it tastes.

According to Liger-Belair, the scientists were tempted to conclude that champagne smells better than it tastes, but in the end he said that he is a physicist and co-lead author Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin of the Institute for Ecological Chemistry and Molecular BioGeochemistry in Neuherberg, Germany, is a chemist, and not experts in the field of smell and taste.

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