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No, putting a spoon in an open bottle of champagne won’t keep it bubbling – but there’s a better way | Geoff Scollary for the talk

AAt a recent tasting, I presented some sparkling wines from the Limoux region of France, a region that produced sparkling wines at least 100 years before wines from the Champagne region were well known.

Towards the end I noticed that if the bottle is not empty, seal it with a sparkling wine stopper and keep in the fridge. The answer was, “Why bother to seal it? Just put a spoon in the neck.”

I was somewhat surprised. Although I’d heard it suggested before, I didn’t think anyone was taking the idea seriously.

The fact is that it is a myth to say that a spoon in an open bottle of sparkling wine keeps it fizzy. Better buy a good stopper.

Minimize contact between wine and oxygen

Through my years of research into wine chemistry and wine oxidation, I know that minimizing contact between wine and oxygen is vital to stopping the onset of oxidative spoilage. Sealing the bottle is essential.

The carbon dioxide in sparkling wine is more soluble in wine at a lower temperature, so storing the wine in the refrigerator is also beneficial. In other words, you’ll retain more bubbles if you stick it in the fridge.

Some even argue that the teaspoon should be made of silver and not stainless steel, although the basis for this seems highly speculative.

Bubble behavior

It is important to note some of the critical characteristics of sparkling wine bubbles.

In his book Uncorked: the science of champagnechampagne researcher Gérard Liger-Belair showed that the amount of carbon dioxide lost depends on how the wine is poured into the glass.

Pouring into a tilted glass retains more carbon dioxide than pouring into a vertical glass. Using bubble imaging techniques, Liger-Belair was able to track the flow of the bubbles in a glass.

The release of air bubbles even depends on the inner surface of the glass. Photo: Eric Thayer/Reuters

He showed separately that the bubbles are in fact aerosols (a suspension of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in the air) with aroma substances that influence the impression of the taster. The release of air bubbles even depends on the inner surface of the glass.

Bubble behavior is therefore complex. Any research on it needs to be replicated to ensure a real and one-time effect is measured.

An important study on ‘the myth of the teaspoon’

Sun study on champagne by Michel Valade and colleagues was published in 1994 in the magazine Le Vigneron Champenois.

The work, titled Le myth de la petite cuillère – the teaspoon myth – was designed to address the claim that a teaspoon, preferably a silver one, could (according to my translation):

Defy all laws of physics and possess a legendary efficiency to protect the bubbles escaping from an open bottle.

These researchers used three strategies to assess the impact of bubble preservation on the wine: the change in pressure, the weight loss and sensory analysis.

After opening, the wine was decanted, leaving 500 milliliters in one set and 250 milliliters in a second set.

The wines were then stored at 12 with four methods of preserving the bubbly: open bottle, silver teaspoon, stainless steel teaspoon, cork stopper (which uses a hermetic seal), and crown seal (a metal lid with crimped edges, as you often see on a beer bottle ). Each approach was performed in triplicate.

A series of sparkling wine bottles with cork stoppers seen during production
The source of bubbles in sparkling wine is the carbon dioxide released during secondary fermentation. Photo: Dmitry Feoktistov/TASS

The researchers then analyzed how the pressure in the bottle changed (measured in a unit called atmosphere; 1 atmosphere is about 101 kilopascals). The initial bottle pressure was 6 atmospheres and dropped to 4 atmospheres after decanting when 500 milliliters remained. When only 250 milliliters remained, the pressure was only 2 atmospheres.

After 48 hours of storage, the pressure in open bottles and those with a teaspoon in the neck had dropped by an additional 50%, indicating a significant loss of bubbles.

There was clearly no teaspoon effect. Those sealed with a cork stopper or crown seal had a pressure drop of only 10%, demonstrating the significant benefit of using a good seal.

These researchers also measured the change in weight of bottles stored in three different ways: fully open, tightly closed, or with an inserted teaspoon.

No decrease in weight was observed for the tightly sealed bottles. But for the fully opened bottles and those with a teaspoon in the neck, the weight loss was significant.

To round out the evidence to dispel the teaspoon myth, the wines were subjected to sensory analysis by expert champagne tasters.

All wines showed some signs of oxidation, due to the ingress of oxygen during opening. Those with a hermetic seal, however, were noticeably more fizzy and lively than those unsealed or with an inserted teaspoon.

Obviously, the teaspoon effect is a myth.

So if you need to keep a partially used bottle, get a good quality sparkling wine stopper.