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Is Your Champagne Good? Listen to the Bubbles for Clues

You may be able to hear a high-quality bubbly

(Maman Voyage via Flickr)
smithsonian.com

Pop! Fizz.

These are the unmistakable sounds of a champagne bottle opening and the crackle of a good pour. But that fizzy sound may hold more information than how much bubbly is making it into your cup. As Nicola Davis reports for The Guardian, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin think you can actually hear a high-quality bubbly.

In a new study, presented this week during the meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in New Orleans, scientists examined the sound of champagne and sparkling wine bubbles to determine if the bubble acoustics correlate with quality. It's long been accepted in the champagne world that bubble size corresponds to the quality of the wine, but the researchers were curious if they could measure a tasty champagne by just listening to the bubbles form.

"Bubbles are very resonant," says Kyle Spratt, one of the researchers on the study, in a press release. "They basically ring like bells, and the frequency of that ringing depends in part on the size of the bubbles."

To measure the sounds of wine, researchers used small hydrophones—microphones which can record underwater sounds. They poured California Brut and Moët & Chandon Imperial champagne into flutes and listened in as the bubbles formed. The results suggest that they could indeed hear the fine champagne, discerning that bubbles of this drink are slightly smaller in size, more evenly sized and have more activity than the lower-quality sparkling wine. But the difference was small, Davis reports, with the bubble diameters of the two varying by only about five percent.

The wine industry has long used bubbles, which rise in small chains called rosaries, as an indicator of quality—but the tiny air pockets are far from easy to measure. Past studies have used high-speed imaging to determine bubble size. But the new research, though it's in the early stages, could lead to a simpler method for spotting higher-quality spirits.

The new results, however, should be approached with caution, says Helen Czerski, a physicist, oceanographer and bubble aficionado, who was not involved in the work, tells The Guardian. Because bubbles might grow on the submerged hydrophones, it might be more accurate to listen from the surface, Czerski says. Spratt and his team are also cautious about the types of containers they used for bubble listening. They found that bubbles just don't form the same way in styrofoam as they do in a flute—something to keep in mind next time you're searching for a drinking vessel after popping a bottle of bubbly.

So are big bubbles or small bubbles ideal? It depends on who you ask. Though the latest study's find aligns with the common wisdom of bubbly—the smaller the bubbles the better—a study published just last year contradicted the find. As Richard Gray reported for The Guardian at the time, researchers measured the bubbles using high-speed imaging and found that the bigger the bubbles the tastier the sparkling wine. Those researchers suggested that the big bubbles are more effective at releasing the aromatic compounds, making the taste and smell bold and bright in a drinker's mouth.  

To figure out this problem, much more champagne and sparkling wine will need to be tested. It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.

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