The Boston Globe Magazine recently published a story with my byline on sparkling wines for the holidays. I had fun putting it together and editor Anne Nelson made a lovely two page spread of it, but it left me a tiny bit unfulfilled. The assignment — recommend 10 bubblies at a variety of price points worth making merry with and provide a tasting note on each — reminded me that I have long yearned to know more about how it is that those swarms of pearly spheres make their appearance in wine and how exactly they behave.
I’m not talking here about how carbon dioxide (the gas that makes wine fizzy) gets into wine. There are a number of techniques for accomplishing this. Descriptions of the various approaches are easily found online and are easily grasped. For me the mystery has always been how all that CO2 gets cut loose, streams in vertical columns straight to the surface and forming the sudsy cap that subjects the nose and tongue to the lascivious tickling we crave.
Most of what we know about the science of bubbles is resident, as you might imagine, at the University of Rheims located in the heart of Champagne country. But it wasn’t until a young physicist named Gérard Liger-Belair took an interest in examining at very close range what all those bubbles (more than two million in a single glassful) we really up to. His 2004 book, Uncorked: the Science of Champagne, is the first attempt to take a scientific approach to the mysteries of bubbly behavior. [Read more…]