Putting a spoon into an open bottle does not keep champagne bubbly

In a recent tasting I presented some sparkling wines produced in the Limoux region, which was producing sparkling wines more than 100 years before the Champagne region became well-known.

I said that at the end of the conversation, if the bottle was not empty, it should be sealed with a sparkling-wine stopper, and stored in the fridge. The answer was “Why seal it?” Put a spoon into the neck.”

I was a little surprised. I was surprised.

It’s not true that a spoon inside an open bottle of bubbly wine will keep it sparkling. It’s better to buy a proper stopper.

Buy a sparkling wine stopper if you want to store a partially-used bottle. Shutterstock

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Minimising contact between wine and oxygen

My years of research into wine chemistry and wine oxygenation have taught me that reducing the contact between wine and air is essential to preventing oxidative spoilage. The bottle must be sealed.

Carbon dioxide is more soluble at lower temperatures, so it is beneficial to store the sparkling wine in the fridge. You’ll keep more bubbles in your sparkling wine if you store it in the refrigerator.

Others even insist that the teaspoon is sterling and not stainless steel. However, the basis of this claim seems to be highly speculative.

Store your sparkling wine properly if you intend to keep it. Shutterstock

Bubble behaviour

The characteristics of bubbles in sparkling wine are important.

In his book Uncorked: the Science of Champagne the champagne researcher Gerard Liger Belair showed that the amount of carbon dioxide lost is dependent on how the wine was poured into a glass.

Pouring into an inclined glass will retain more carbon dioxide compared to pouring into one that is vertical. Liger-Belair tracked the flow of bubbles using bubble imaging techniques.

Separately, he showed that the bubbles were actually aerosols (a suspension or fine particles or liquid droplets suspended in air), containing aroma compounds which affect the tasters’ impression. Even the surface of the glass can affect the release of bubbles.

The behavior of bubbles is complex. To ensure that the study is not a one-off, it must be repeated.

Bubbles can be released from the inside of the glass. Shutterstock

The myth of the teaspoon: A key study

In 1994, Le Vigneron Champenois published a study by Michel Valade with colleagues on champagne.

The work, Le Mythe de la Petite Cuillere, was created to challenge the idea that a spoon, especially a silver one, can (according my translation):

Defy the laws of physics to keep the bubbles from escaping an open bottle.

Researchers used three different strategies to evaluate the impact of bubble preservation on wine: change in pressure, loss of weight, and sensory analysis.

The wine is decanted after opening. 500 milliliters are left in the first set, and 250 milliliters remain in the second.

The wine was then stored at 12degC using four different methods to preserve the bubbles. These included an open bottle, a silver teaspoon, a stainless steel spoon, a cork stopper that uses a hermetic sealing, and a crown seal (a metal cap with crimped corners, similar to what you see on beer bottles). Each method was tested in three copies.

Researchers then analyzed the changes in pressure within the bottle (measured using atmospheres, which is equivalent to 101 kilopascals). After decanting, the bottle pressure dropped to 4 atmospheres with 500 millilitres left. The pressure dropped to 2 atmospheres when only 250 millilitres were left.

After 48 hours of storage, the pressure inside open bottles and in those with a spoon inserted into the neck had fallen by another 50%. This indicates a significant loss in bubbles.

There was clearly no teaspoon effect. The pressure drop was only 10% for those sealed with a crown seal or cork stopper, showing the importance of using an appropriate closure.

The secondary fermentation of sparkling wine releases carbon dioxide. Shutterstock

Researchers also measured changes in weight for bottles that were stored in three different ways – fully opened, tightly sealed, or with a teaspoon inserted.

The tightly sealed bottles did not lose weight. The weight loss was greater for bottles that were fully opened and with a teaspoon placed in the neck.

Expert champagne tasters conducted sensory analyses of the wines to confirm the findings and dispel the myth about the teaspoon.

All wines showed signs of oxidation due to the oxygen entering during opening. The wines that were sealed with the hermetic seal had a more lively and effervescent taste than those without a seal or those with a teaspoon inserted.

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