Science Questions

Does a spoon in the neck prevent Champagne going flat?

Sun, 29th Nov 2009

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Question

Gerry asked:

We had some friends around on Friday for dinner. They brought with them a bottle of pink Cava. We didn’t finish it because they were driving home and we said, “Oh, well, we better stuff a bit of paper down to stop it going flat.” “No,” they said “Why don’t you try putting a teaspoon down the neck?” So we did.

 

On Saturday, the day after, we thought we’d try it with some lunch; we took the teaspoon out, poured a glass and it fizzed up like nothing on Earth! “Goodness me, how did that happen? Why didn’t the bubbles escape with all the space around the teaspoon?”

Answer

Chris -   There’s no evidence, unfortunately, Gerry, that this actually works.  The bottom line is - the reason there is fizz in the champagne is because the champagne was turned into wine, in other words, had alcohol in it because there was yeast, which converted sugars in the original grape juice into alcohol.  When you ferment something, you grow yeast in the absence of air, the yeast produces alcohol as a by-product of survival and it also produces CO2 as the other by-product.

And if you put a cork in the bottle and pressurise the liquid, the CO2 can’t escape and therefore it dissolves in the liquid and you get a fizzy beverage.  And to increase the "fizziness" of champagne what they will sometimes do is to add additional sugar after the primary fermentation and that encourages it to make even more fizz.

If you take the cork off of a bottle of champagne or a fizzy drink, what you’re now doing is exposing the gas which is dissolved in the liquid to atmospheric pressure; this means that there’s now no pressure to hold the gas in solution and it would gently and progressively come out.

And when you pour a glass of fizzy drink, you’ll see the bubbles arising from one point to a number of points on the glass and they stream upwards.  That’s because there are irregularities or rough points on the surface of the glass.

But there’s no reason why a spoon in the neck of the bottle should make any difference because the bottle is open to the air and, therefore, the air above the liquid is at atmospheric pressure and, therefore, the gas will move from an area of high concentration in the liquid to the lower concentration, lower pressure in the air.

Therefore, I think this is a myth and you’d have to do a proper experiment and take several bottles of champagne and open them and put no spoon in them and simultaneously do the same thing with bottles of champagne with spoons in the neck and then have some objective measure of how much “fizziness” was in there and I think you’d find it wouldn’t make a difference.  Would you agree, Dave?

Dave -   Yeah, I found actually on the internet, someone has done this experiment and the spoon makes no difference at all.  The important thing is putting the drink in the fridge, which makes the liquid a lot colder.  And the colder liquid is the more gas it can hold.  So I think it will just lose its fizz a lot slower that you’d expect when it’s in the fridge especially if it’s in a very clean bottle.

Chris -   There you go, myth busted.  Sorry about that, Gerry.

Gerry -   That’s a disappointment.

Chris -   Never mind.  But drink the champagne up.  I mean that’s the key thing, isn’t it?

Gerry -   Oh, sure, we will next time.  Oh, thanks very much for that!

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Gerry Myer asked the Naked Scientists: Why does a teaspoon put in the top of a half filled bottle of Cava (or champagne) keep the drink fresh, with its bubbles until the next day at least (I've tried this - it does work) What do you think? gerry myer, Sun, 29th Nov 2009

Although I've drunk a fair amount of champagne and cava in my time, I don't ever remember hearing that one.  But then the belief that it would go off if not drunk was always a good enough reason to finish the bottle (and have a new bottle the next day <wistful_sigh>I was getting 1976 vintage M&C for £11/bottle at the time</wistful_sigh>). LeeE, Sun, 29th Nov 2009

We have done the experiment and it shows little difference. Let me repost the results here:

Terry's Great Champagne Experiment!

Day 1. 3.30 pm.

Opened both bottles, and poured a glass from each. Drank said glasses. Both quite nice, despite being from $5 bottles and being consumed in the middle of the afternoon. Both quite bubbly.

Placed both bottles in the door of my fridge. Placed a teaspoon in the neck of one!

Stay tuned for further reports!
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Day 2. 4 am (PT + 0/12:30:00)

Drank two more half glasses, one from each bottle. No noticable reduction in bubbliness, no noticable variation between the glasses.
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Day 3. 12.30 am (PT + 1/09:00:00)

Distinctly less bubbly now than when first opened. No readily identifyanble difference in the bubblyness between the bottles. Swiss female research assistant concurs (at lest she did before she fell asleep).

Day 3. 9.30 am (PT + 1/18:00:00)

Little change from previous report.
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Day 4. 3 pm (PT + 2/23:30:00)

Wine is still in relatively good condition. Remarkably little degradation of bubblyness over the last 48 hours (at least my perception of it, as this aspect is not controlled). No readily identifying difference in the bubblyness between the bottles.
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Day 6. 7.30 pm (PT + 5/04:00:00)

What do you know. Still bubbly. Both bottles.
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Day 9. 9.30 am (PT + 7/18:00:00)

Remarkably, both bottles still have some fizz, at least on pouring. Both rather flat to drink, and it's starting to taste funny.
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Day 14. 2 am (PT + 12/10:30:00)

Poured two more glasses. Nearly flat, but still enough fizzyness to form a high density of small (diameter < 1 mm) bubbles on the glass. Tastes much better than last time. No observable difference between the bottles.

In the interests of my reputation, I hereby declare Terry's Great Champagne Experiment completed.
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The theory that a teaspoon placed in the neck of an opened bottle of champagne improves the longevity of the wine was tested by storing two bottles of Australian sparkling wine in a fridge with a teaspoon in the neck of one. The wine was sampled over a period of two weeks. The bubblyness of the wine from each bottle was tested by the investigator drinking a half glass from each bottle. Some of the observations were confirmed by Swiss female research assistant. The apparent persistence of effervescence---though not a controlled aspect of the experiment---was quite remarkable. At no stage was there a detectable difference between the wine from each bottle. The conclusion must be made that the "teaspoon in the neck of the bottle" theory be classed as an "urban myth".




This experiment was conducted November 1999.

Feel free to start a 21st century one. JnA, Mon, 30th Nov 2009



Absolutely brilliant! Thanks JnA !

Chris chris, Tue, 5th Jan 2010

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