Everyone enjoys a nice glass of bubbly – no one more so than us here at Casa del Chemistry World. But some people go that bit further to investigate just what it is that makes a glass of champagne taste the way it does. And in this case it turns out that the glass can make all the difference.

Gérard Liger-Belair from the University of Reims, France, and his team looked at the concentration of ethanol and carbon dioxide floating above the surface of champagne in the tall, thin flutes and squat, wide coupes using micro-gas chromotography to try to make some quantitive judgements on the merits of the two glasses. They discovered that the levels of carbon dioxide were two to three times higher just above the champagne in a flute than in a coupe, although the level of ethanol was comparable.

Infrared image of carbon dioxide flowing from a champagne flute

They also used an infrared imaging technique to look at carbon dioxide levels and created some amazing pictures of the gas escaping from the drink.

Liger-Belair and his team have spent some years investigating all aspects of bubbly’s taste and smell (nice work if you can get it) and have featured on the pages of Chemistry World a number of times. Liger-Belair himself has written for us extolling the chemical virtues of investigating champagne and it’s packed with interesting facts – did you know champagne corks explode out of the bottle at 60km/h? Or that on the Moon the bubbles in champagne would be three times larger than here on Earth?

So how did the coupe glass come about? Well, it was created in the 17th century especially for the English aristocracy. Later a myth grew up around it that the curves of the glass had been modelled on the breast of Marie Antoinette – unlikely as she hadn’t been born yet. The glass became increasingly popular in the 1930s as its shape encouraged the champagne to go flat quickly for those that weren’t such a fan of the bubbles and burps that go with champagne and it became particularly popular in the US. But coupes’ popularity dived later that century as champagne warms up quickly in these glasses and people came to appreciate the bubbles.

Flutes also appeared around the same time, although designs have become taller and finer over time as glass-working skills and production techniques improved.

But which is better? There’s only one way to find out. Fight! Well, if you prefer your champagne with bubbles then a flute’s the way forward. On top of this, the higher levels of carbon dioxide floating above the champagne give the drink its distinctive nose as the gas irritates the nasal passages. So for the authentic champers experience don’t be a barbarian and stick to a flute!

Patrick Walter

PS Remember to open your champagne safely!


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