Science Interviews

Interview

Tue, 26th Apr 2016

Does a spoon stop champagne going flat?

Dr Kat Arney, Naked Scientists

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Now it’s time for this week’s mythconception, where we take dodgy science to Champaigntask and this week Kat's cracking out the bubbly...

Kat - Now it’s no secret that I’m a fan of the finer things in life - including champagne. Or cava. Or prosecco. Or even that weird fizzy stuff that might actually not even be made of grapes at all. And, perhaps, so is our listener Elizabeth from South Africa, as she’s emailed in to ask us to investigate whether hanging a metal spoon - particularly a silver one - in the neck of a bottle of opened sparkling wine will stop it from going flat.

 

I’ll just start by saying right now that I was unable to test this personally, as I’m incapable of leaving any champagne in the bottle. But in the unlikely event that you have any fizz left in there, will popping a spoon in the top help?

 

According to Stanford University chemistry professor Richard Zare, who has actually looked into this problem scientifically - as well as the TV show Mythbusters - a spoon in the neck of the bottle will do nothing to keep the fizz in.

Back in 1994, Zare put the idea to the test with a panel of 8 amateur testers, including his wife and some lucky colleagues. In a blind test, they slurped their way through samples from five pairs of temperature-controlled bottles of sparkling wine, which had been treated in various ways - opening the bottle just before the test, opening it the day before and either leaving it uncorked or putting a cork back in, or opening it the day before and putting either a silver or stainless steel spoon into the neck.

Weirdly, they found that while the spoons did nothing to help the booze keep its fizz, they actually found that re-corking it made matters even worse, although other experts suggest that this is actually the best way to trap the bubbles in your bubbly. And Zare himself notes that the testers’ judgement may have become impaired after a while…

There’s also a good scientific explanation as to why a spoon in the top of an opened bottle won’t help, and why a cork in the top might. The bubbles in sparkling wine are carbon dioxide, produced by yeast feasting on the sugars in the drink as they ferment it. As long as the bottle is corked, they’re trapped in the liquid, but as soon as that familiar pop happens, they can come rushing out. And because there’s a lower concentration of carbon dioxide in the air outside the bottle than inside, it’ll tend to rush out, leaving your fizz flat.

But if you’ve managed to inexplicably end up with leftover champagne that you’d like to drink another day, is there anything you can do to keep your fizzy busy? The main piece of advice is to keep it cold. The lower the temperature, the less likely the carbon dioxide gas is to come out of solution and escape. So pop your bottle back in the fridge or on ice at every opportunity.

You could also try and re-cork it, but please do be very careful and be sure to use a specific champagne stopper rather than any old cork, as the buildup of carbon dioxide gas could shoot it out and cause a nasty injury. To avoid that, just as our listeners have a thirst for knowledge, the best thing is to have a thirst for champagne too and make sure you polish off the bottle. Or send it over to me!

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