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The science of champagne

As you ring in the new year, why not give a toast to the chemistry and physics behind that festive bottle of bubbly? Feel free to drop these sparkling bits of science at tonight's cocktail parties.

A million tiny bubbles

Champagne would be just another white wine without those hallmark bubbles. Some have suggested there are as many as 15 million fizzing in a glass of champagne. But they all probably don't survive the pouring and drinking process. A study a few years back by Gerard Liger-Belair examined temperature, dynamics of the bubbles and even the angle of a flute and deduced that when you open a bottle, lots of the dissolved carbon dioxide escapes without forming bubbles, putting the number at closer to a million.

...all waiting to get out

All those excited bubbles of carbon dioxide are just aching to escape. A bottle of champagne is holding back three times the pressure of car tire. The warmer the bubbly, the more the pressure builds and the faster the cork flies when you pop it open.

A powerful pop

Don't underestimate the force of that flying cork, which can travel as much as 50 miles an hour. The American Academy of Ophthalmology says that eye injuries caused by corks are one of the biggest hazards over the holidays. They offer several tips to prevent corks from becoming dangerous projectiles, including chilling the champagne and wrapping the top of the bottle with a towel to contain the cork.

The perfect pour

Ever wonder why champagne gets its own special glass? Liger-Belair, author of the book "Uncorked: The Science of Champagne," found that drinking from a flute preserved much more of the carbon dioxide bubbles than using an old fashioned round coupe. The shape of the glass, he found, was the key to preserving all those bubbles. It also helps to keep your champagne chilled. Pro tip: Tilt the glass as you pour. Liger-Belair found that you lose twice as many bubbles if you pour down the middle of the glass.

A drink for all the senses

When the champagne is poured, the bubbles ascend the length of the glass, dragging along molecules of flavor from as many as 600 chemical compounds, according to the American Chemical Society. As you bring the glass closer to your mouth, the bursting of bubbles delivers aromatic molecules to your nose, which produce some of the champagne's aroma. Drinking the champagne also excites special receptors on the tongue that detect fizziness. This heightens the sensation -- and without them, the drink would taste pretty ordinary.

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