The most expensive champagnes should be the best – though marketing expertise may distort that relationship. And the assumed truth is that these best wine have the smallest bubbles (called mousse).

Now Professor Gérard Liger-Belair, a respected physics researcher at the University of Reims (the heart of the Champagne country) has ruined this belief. His studies of fluid dynamics has revealed that bigger bubbles are better.

The bubbles in champagne and other sparkling wines are carbon dioxide gas, created during the secondary fermentation process which is the source of sparkling wines. When a bottle is opened, more than a million bubbles are released in each glass of bubbly. Bubbles rise to the surface of the wine and form a regular hexagonal pattern. One bubble collapsing leads to a chain reaction which sprays tiny droplets into the air at the top of the glass. And it is this spray of evaporating droplets which give the happy drinker the full sensory experience.

Bubbles in sparkling wine range between 0.02 and 0.16 inches in radius. But bubbles with a radius of 0.07 inches result in the highest number of droplets evaporating at the surface of the drink. Which is good news for cava and prosecco, which have larger bubbles than premium champagne.

Professor Gérard Liger-Belair has been researching the physics of champagne for more than a decade. His team have also come up with findings on how to pour sparkling wines to reduce the risk of the gush of bubbles overflowing (tilt the glass).

Champagne corks can also be the cause of serious injuries – the 90 pounds per square inch inside a champagne bottle can propel the cork at 50 miles per hour. At this festive time of the year, when runaway cork accidents generate a surprising number of Emergency Room visits, it is good to know that the ideal temperature to open a bottle of champagne is 4C (= 39F). According to the team, this reduces the speed of the cork coming out of the bottle and helps to prevent those accidents.

Robin Hall

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