Bubbly Science

Soon we'll be drinking Dover.

by istockphoto

istockphoto

Now it's really serious: Global warming could endanger champagne. French physicist Grard Liger-Belair, author of the forthcoming book Uncorked: The Science of Champagne, says that changes in the climate of the Champagne region of France could affect the local grapes. Warmer weather would boost photosynthesis in the leaves of the vine, producing added sugars, which migrate into the grape. This would reduce the acidity in the grapes and, as a result, disturb champagne's delicate taste.

The drink itself won't disappear. Gregory Jones of the University of Southern Oregon, who presented a report in 2003 on the effects of global warming on viniculture, suggested that the ideal climate could shift to Great Britain. According to Liger-Belair, there's an additional reason our bubbly might one day be English. The Champagne region's soil is high in limestone, which imparts acidity to the grapes, allowing the wine to mature better over time. Liger-Belair notes that the southern
regions of England have similar soil, as evidenced by the limestone-rich white cliffs of Dover.

The future aside, Uncorked is an interesting, enjoyable read for anyone who has gazed too long upon a champagne-filled flute. The author focuses mainly on the physics of the bubbling process. Using high-speed photography, he overturns a popular myth about the formation and flow of the bubbles. Although conventional wisdom holds that bubbles collect and flow upward from points of impurity in the glass--small cavities or cracks--these spots are actually too small. Instead, Liger-Belair explains, the CO2 gathers in the gas pockets of cellulose fibers stuck to the walls of the flute, deposited by dish towels or dust. A perfectly clean glass, therefore, would yield a perfectly boring glass of champagne.