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How to pour that drink, scientifically

False-color infrared video shows carbon dioxide emanating from a champagne glass while the bubbly is being poured from a bottle stored at 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

What's the best way to pour a glass of New Year's Eve champagne? Scientists have the answer.

If you want to make the most of your glass of bubbly, you should pour the wine down the side of the glass, French researchers reported in a paper published by the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry this summer.

Gerard Liger-Belair and his colleagues at the University of Reims used infrared thermography to track how much carbon dioxide was released from champagne under a variety of pouring conditions. They reported that the traditional technique, which involves pouring the wine straight down into the bottom of a champagne flute, may make a splash — but also releases a lot of the CO2 before the glass can be brought to your lips.

Studies have shown that the release of dissolved CO2 in the mouth is what's behind the pleasurable taste and feel of champagne. Thus, pouring a stream of wine down the side of the glass preserves more of the bubbles, so that they can tickle the palate as you drink. It's not just that fewer bubbles pop: A less turbulent slide into the glass cuts down on the invisible diffusion of dissolved CO2 into the air, which accounts for most of the loss of effervescence. (This is also why narrow flutes are preferred over the wide-bowl glasses of the old days: less surface area for CO2 loss.)

The CO2 loss can be twice as much for a down-to-the-bottom pour as it is for a down-the-side pour, depending on the circumstances, the French researchers found.

Temperature also plays a big role in preserving the bubbly. Storing the champagne at a temperature of 39 degrees Fahrenheit (3.8 degrees Celsius) seems to be the best way to go. If you pop open a bottle at 64 degrees F (18 degrees C) ... well, at that temperature, you might as well slosh the stuff into a paper cup.

In a 2006 study published in the same journal, Liger-Belair's team listed some other tricks to control how your sparkling wine sparkles after you've poured it into the glass. They found that more bubbles are sparked if there are minute fibers or scratches in the glass. Thus, older, scratched-up glasses release bubbles more quickly than newer, slicker glasses.

If you want bubblier champagne in the glass, you can try wiping the flutes vigorously with a towel to leave some fibers behind. If you want to tone down the bubbles (and let them pop on your palate instead), wash the flutes and let them air-dry on a rack, sans toweling.

But Liger-Belair says the bottom line for maximizing your bubbly is to angle your glass and pour your champagne in a "beer-like" fashion — down the side.

And speaking of beer ... experts do agree that you should start pouring your winter brew down the side, to minimize turbulence and maximize the liquid volume. But at the end, you should pour enough of the beer into the center of the glass to create an appropriate head of foam. This video from How Stuff Works shows you how the two-part pour is done with Guinness stout.

By the way, cans of "draft" Guinness nowadays contain capsules of pressurized nitrogen that maximize the beer's frothiness. The folks at My Science Project (already renowned for their research into the mysteries of Jell-O shots) have conducted some experiments aimed at analyzing the effects of various foam-producing technologies.

And we all know why the bubbles in a properly poured Guinness sink down the inner wall of the glass, don't we? You may have to do that experiment yourself on New Year's Eve. Ah, the sacrifices we must make in the name of science!

More on New Year's Eve science:


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