Uncorked: The Science of Champagne


Uncorked is the first book to quench our curiosity about the inner workings of one of the world's most popular drinks. Prized for its freshness, vitality, and sensuality, champagne is a wine of great complexity. Mysteries aplenty gush forth with the popping of that cork. Just what is that fizz? Can you judge champagne quality by how big the bubbles are, by how long they last, by how they behave before they fade? Why exactly does serving champagne in a long-stemmed flute prolong ...

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Uncorked: The Science of Champagne

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Uncorked is the first book to quench our curiosity about the inner workings of one of the world's most popular drinks. Prized for its freshness, vitality, and sensuality, champagne is a wine of great complexity. Mysteries aplenty gush forth with the popping of that cork. Just what is that fizz? Can you judge champagne quality by how big the bubbles are, by how long they last, by how they behave before they fade? Why exactly does serving champagne in a long-stemmed flute prolong both the chill and the effervescence?

Through lively prose and a wealth of state-of-the-art, high-speed photos, this book unlocks the door to the mystery of what champagne effervescence is really all about. Gérard Liger-Belair provides an unprecedented close-up view of the beauty in the bubbles--images that look surprisingly like lovely flowers, geometric patterns, even galaxies as they rise through the glass and then burst forth on the surface. He fully illustrates: how bubbles form not on the glass itself but are instead "born" out of debris stuck on the glass wall; how they rise; and how they burst--the most picturesque and functional stage of the bubble's fleeting life.

Uncorked also provides a colorful history of champagne, tells us how it is made, and asks: could global warming spell its demise? Bubbly may tickle the nose, but this book tackles what the nose and the naked eye cannot--the spectacular science of that which gives champagne its charm and gives us our pleasure.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Winner of the 2005 Best Book on European Wine, Gourmand World Cookbook Awards

Winner of the 2004 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Physics and Astronomy, Association of American Publishers

"This book presents the birth, life and death of a champagne bubble with such gusto, good humor and clarity that you will devour its delicious contents in one gulp. Whereas good champagne is to be sipped, this book is not. You will never experience the sensual elegance of champagne in quite the same way again once you have read this entertaining account of its history and 'fizzics.' "--Richard N. Zare, Nature

"A highly entertaining introduction to the science of champagne bubbles. . . . Uncorked is very readable, and Liger-Belair's clear and simple descriptions of the physics are superbly suitable for a general audience. The book is also very aesthetically pleasing, making it an ideal present for wine lovers and bores alike."--Stuart West, Science

"Uncorked is an interesting, enjoyable read for anyone who has gazed too long upon a champagne-filled flute."--Gregory Mone, Popular Science

"Liger-Belair, a physicist inspired to study bubbles by a brainstorm over a beer, delves into a champagne flute with a curiosity as strong as his microscope. The result is a book as informative as it is engaging, boosted by the gorgeous, up-close photos of bubbles in motion."--Tara Q. Thomas, The Denver Post

"This small, gold-wrapped jewel-of-a-book makes the perfect companion gift to a bottle of bubbly. . . . Written by a passionate, wine-loving physicist with just the proper level of jargon for non-scientists, the birth, rise and bursting of a Champagne bubble is scrutinized, rhapsodized, diagrammed, photographed and, finally, demystified. . . . Knowing more about a bubble's lowly birth (formed from debris on the side of the glass) and ephemeral rise to fame will only serve to make you love it more."--Claudia Conlon, The Wine News

"A delightfully readable little book."--Joanna Simon, The Sunday Times (London)

"[A] convivial examination of the party season's favorite tipple."--Paul Nettleton, The Guardian

"The ultimate guide to the 'fizzics' of sparkling wine."--Deborah Scoblionkov, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Chances are good that during the holiday season, you found yourself holding a glass of champagne. If the festivities were flagging, a question may have crossed your mind: What causes those delightful little bubbles that tickle your nose? In Uncorked, Gerard Liger-Belair answers this and other questions that have occupied the wine world since the night French monk Dom Perignon invented champagne in the late 17th century."--Donald Morrison, Time Magazine (Europe)

"Ah, a science lesson I can really get into. . . . You will learn that there is no scientific evidence to support the assertion that small bubbles make for finer champagne; that champagne poured into completely clean glasses will always be flat; that narrow flutes with round bottoms make the most desirable sipping vessels; and that corks should be released with a 'subdued sigh' rather than a bang."--Anjana Ahuja, The Times (London)

"Never have I been so fascinated by so much information that I didn't need. . . . [A]n irresistible read."--Richard Kinssies, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Did you ever look into a flute of champagne and wonder where those tiny bubbles come from? Physicist Liger-Belair explains this scientific phenomenon in easy-to-understand language, combined with diagrams and beautiful state-of-the-art, high-speed photography. In the process, he delves into the history, art, and science of making champagne."--Choice

"[Liger-Belair is] an expert on the way bubbles form, travel, and disperse in glasses of champagne. His research has practical implications for the way you drink and enjoy bubbly."--Joshua Rothman, Boston Globe

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691119199
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 9/27/2004
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 7.86 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Gerard Liger-Belair is Associate Professor of Physical Sciences at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, in the heart of the Champagne wine region. He has been researching the physical chemistry of bubbles in carbonated beverages for several years, and his photographs have appeared in numerous exhibitions and art galleries. He also works as a consultant for the research department of Champagne Moet & Chandon.
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Read an Excerpt


The Science of Champagne
By Gérard Liger-Belair

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2005 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-11919-9


Champagne has launched thousands of ships, toasted countless weddings, and inaugurated billions of New Year's parties throughout the world. Almost everyone-certainly everyone reading this book-has an interesting story to tell that includes a bottle of champagne. So it seems best to start this book with a story of my own.

I'm a physicist. What's a physicist doing writing about champagne? Well, the story begins on a summer afternoon when I was a student in the midst of finals and thought it would be a good plan before getting on with studying to stop somewhere on the way home to have a beer. Now keep in mind that this is a physics student stopping somewhere to have a beer, and besides, I had a predilection for fluid dynamics and, on the side, photography. The sunlight, the hot day, the alcohol, my studies, and the thought of actually trying to study more later on all helped to focus my attention on the golden bubbles rising up through the beer and along the sides of the glass in front of me ... I sat, mesmerized. I thought, Effervescence really belongs to that category of daily phenomena that naturally engage the imagination; I could just as well be watching the clouds in the sky, flames popping in afireplace, or waves breaking on a beach. I suppose that I could have just left it at that, but I wanted to know more. I wanted to see closer, get my camera. I suddenly realized, in a fl ash of free association (and slight intoxication), that I wanted to study carbonated beverages.

A year later I had a master's degree in fundamental physics and was still a bubbles addict. I bought a secondhand macrophoto-graphic lens and, over the holidays, started taking photographs of bubbles rising in a glass filled with soda. I spent whole nights developing film and enlarging pictures in my bathroom, which-to my girlfriend's chagrin-I had transformed into a makeshift dark-room. Six months and many sleepless nights later, I mailed some of my best shots to the research department of Champagne Moët & Chandon, along with some initial scientific observations describing what was occurring in the photographs.

My grand plan was this: Champagne makers such as Moët & Chandon sold 262.6 million bottles in 2001-the equivalent of about $3 billion in sales. For an industry that banks so much on bubbles, finding ways to better understand the bubbling process and eventually to improve the beverage's hallmark fizz seemed like a smart idea. Department head Bruno Duteurtre asked me to come to Moët & Chandon's headquarters in Epernay (the capital of Champagne wines) to lay out my photographs, thoughts, and research plans. The people I met with were captivated by the idea of this research, and a few weeks later I moved from Paris to Reims to begin my dissertation in the Laboratory of Enology at the University of Reims. With colleagues from both the university and Moët & Chandon, I started my official investigation into the physical chemistry of champagne bubbles.

As Dr. Harold Edgerton, a revolutionary in the development of high-speed and stop-motion photography, once said, "The experience of seeing the unseen has provided me with insights and questions my entire life." This sentiment exactly captures the heart of the matter, the reason for this book, and the answer to my earlier question. Champagne is a wonderful drink, one that mysteriously manages to capture an incredible amount of festivity, elegance, and sensuality in every glass. A lover of champagne-either a guest at your next New Year's party or a connoisseur at a banquet-certainly can drink a glass and enjoy it with great pleasure. These two lovers of champagne may have different vocabularies to describe what they find pleasurable about the wine, but it's very likely that neither knows nor can even begin to imagine all that is happening inside the flute in his or her hand. Mainly, this is so because some of the most interesting and beautiful events in a glass of champagne are invisible to the unaided eye. With a special lens on a camera, however, we can capture photographs of the bubbles in champagne. We can study those photographs, and with the help of a little physics know-how, understand how the bubbles act as the vehicles for taste, scent, that lovely popping sensation on your tongue and the tip of your nose-in general, the pleasure we all know, love, and have come to expect from a glass of champagne.

Like music, like poetry, and like the personalities of people, our physical environment-animate or inanimate, natural or manufactured, wild or civilized-has beauty to be appreciated both on a superficial level and at a deeper level of structural understanding. It behooves an admirer to examine an object of beauty closely so as to enrich his or her experience and appreciation of its charm. As a physicist-not a connoisseur, not a poet-I obviously have a different vocabulary and level of expertise to make use of than others might employ in the enthusiasts' literature when they describe the experience of drinking a glass of champagne. However, I hope to go beyond vocabulary and offer a unique experience to you, regardless of your background or expertise: to see what the unaided eye cannot see and to observe closely some of the building blocks of beauty-the physics and the chemistry of that which gives champagne its charm and gives us our pleasure. I hope that your enjoyment of champagne is only enhanced by this guide that a scientist has created to the lovely physics of the bubbles that sparkle within it.


Excerpted from Uncorked by Gérard Liger-Belair Copyright © 2005 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

CHAPTER ONE: Introduction 1
CHAPTER TWO: The History of Champagne 7
CHAPTER THREE: The Making of Champagne 19
CHAPTER FOUR: A Flute or a Goblet? 31
CHAPTER FIVE: The Birth of a Bubble 37
CHAPTER SIX: The Bubble Rises 59
CHAPTER SEVEN: The Bubble Bursts 85
CHAPTER EIGHT: Afterword: The Future of Champagne Wines 133
Glossary 143
Bibliography 145
Acknowledgments 148
Index 149
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2005

    Illustrated history of a champagne bubble

    Uncorked : the science of champagne or how all to learn on this festive and sparkling beverage so much appreciated throughout the world? In a very pleasant prose to read, the author : Gerard Liger-Belair, an associate professor in Physical Sciences at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne and consultant for the research department of Moet & Chandon, describes elegantly and for the first time the fragile and transitory life of a champagne bubble from its birth to its burst on the surface. Furthermore superb and fascinating black and white photographs permit to visualize what the naked eye cannot perceive like the formation of geometrical structures in the shape of flowers or dynamics of the bubbles such galaxies at the liquid surface. This book is a real concentrate of knowledge combining with brilliance history, science and art. Here is a physicist in love with bubbles and phenomenon of effervescence which makes the dynamics of fluids attractive! I think that Uncorked is a remarkable tool for popularisation, accessible to the greatest number and Gerard Liger-Belair, a professor that any student would dream to have. Never again you will look at a champagne flute in the same way!

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