The Science behind Champagne and its Bubbles…

The bubbles of nothing that make every celebration something have helped bring in New Years for hundreds of years. For almost as long many have believed that the bubbles have the ability to go straight to your head, producing an odd giggling effect in many that partake in bubbly celebrations.

The science behind the production of Champagne and its magic bubbles is well understood but the effect of these bubbles is a far more contentious issue. Contention that is compounded by the fact that everyone is affected differently by the little bubbles of carbon dioxide. So is there any truth to the bubbly theory?

How is Champagne produced and where do the mysterious bubbles come from?

First bottled in the 17th century the world quickly developed a taste for Champagne, even though the bottles did have a nasty tendency to explode, especially in warmer weather. With refinement of the recipe and stronger English made glass this game of alcoholic Russian roulette was eventually eliminated, now we just have the corks to worry about.

Ordinary still wine and sparkling wine begin life in the same way, grapes are crushed to extract the grape juice and the natural yeasts present on the grapes ferment the grape juice, usually while in barrels or stainless steel vats. During this initial fermentation process natures little nanobots digest the sugar present in the grape juice producing the alcohol and carbon dioxide.

That is were the similarities end as wine is then bottled and left on the rack to age. Sparkling wines are bottled and a little extra sugar and yeast is added to the bottles. This second helping of yeast ensures that just the right amount of carbon dioxide is present when the cork is finally popped. Champagne also includes the final step of clearing out the dead yeast (lees) and excess carbon dioxide in a process called riddling.

Does Champagne get you tipsy faster?

Celebration toast with champagne

One of the more interesting characteristics of Champagne and other sparkling wines is the giggle effect that seems to impart the party spirit to all that consume it. A characteristic that has caused many to ask if champagne gets you tipsier faster? Do the bubbles really go straight to your head?

There are a number of studies that have on the surface confirmed that you do indeed get drunk faster when drinking sparkling wines as compared to still wines. A 2007 study found that in the first 15-30 minutes of drinking sparkling wines you will experience a steep spike in blood alcohol content while a standard wine will produce a smooth increase in blood alcohol content. A difference that changes the type of inebriation you feel and produces the giggle effect.

Sadly, these studies are not bubbling with supporting evidence. Only small number of people were included in the studies and the results weren’t consistent across all of the test subjects. Also, none of the studies accounted for the amount of food already in the test subject’s stomachs. However, you could say safely say that some people did experience a spike in giggle factor for the first half hour, with a 50% higher increase in blood alcohol content when compared to bubble free wine.

The actual mechanism that is at work to produce the giggle effect is also a contentious issue. The leading theory suggests that the carbon dioxide causes gastric emptying, a process that moves the alcohol laden liquid from your stomach to the small intestine where the magic happens as the alcohol is absorbed.

Gastric emptying occurs even faster if there is no food in your stomach at the time. This and the fact that wine flutes make the bubbles last longer than shallow goblet style glasses are really the only well-established facts in this discussion.

There is also the interesting question ‘If you are in a bubble bath partaking in bubbly (prosecco in this case) is there a double bubble effect?’ Time for a little scientific experimentation of the inebriated kind. Which is probably how most of the studies so far have been formulated.

For a more in-depth explanation of how alcohol makes it into your system please watch the fun little St. Patrick’s Day Song below.


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New Scientist: Champagne does get you drunk faster