The question: Does a half-empty bottle of Champagne keep bubbles longer if you leave a spoon inside the neck?
The answer: That’s a classic folk tale; you’ve just opened a can of worms with the opened bottle of bubbly.
The short answer is no. Dangling a spoon inside the neck – with the oval portion sticking out – fails to stop carbon dioxide from escaping. The practice is common in European households, where they tend to specifically prescribe a silver spoon. But the metal doesn’t matter. Silver or stainless yields the same (ineffective) result.
A researcher at no less august an institution than California’s Stanford University tested the theory in the early 1990s, and I can almost guarantee you’re going to be surprised by the findings. According to blind taste tests, an opened bottle with no cork reinserted actually performed just as well as a bottle that was given the spoon trick. And here’s the clincher: That opened bottle also tasted better than one that had been resealed.
Chemistry professor Richard Zare, who specializes in watching molecules dance in chemical reactions, teamed up with well-known food-science writer Harold McGee for the myth-busting experiment. They tested five methods, each with a single glass of champagne removed from the bottle. One bottle was uncorked 26 hours prior to tasting and left open. Another was left with a silver spoon in the neck for 26 hours. A third used a stainless spoon in the same way. The fourth was opened and resealed the night before. The last was opened just prior to the test. (They in fact used two bottles for each treatment as a redundancy measure to safeguard against potential variations in flavour between bottles, which is always a possibility with a natural product such as wine.)
According to the eight amateur tasters, the spoon treatments were no more successful in maintaining sparkle than the bottle that was simply left open. But their least-favourite wine was the recorked sample. And by least favourite I am referring to flavour rather than spritz.
The result was a bit of a mystery at first, but Dr. Zare subsequently speculated that the unsealed bottles may have tasted better because, paradoxically, a loss of carbonation altered their flavour for the better. It’s known that gases such as carbon dioxide remove flavour components from a beverage as they move from the dissolved to gaseous state, percolating up in the form of bubbles. That’s the reason the head on a mug of beer tastes more sharply bitter than the beer itself; the froth extracts some of the bitter hop flavouring. In the case of champagne, the wines likely were rendered sweeter tasting, and that must have pleased the tasters.
For my money, though, I would not want champagne any sweeter. I tend to like its naturally high acidity and bitter-mineral quality. And I love tiny bubbles for their own sake. So I’ll continue to reseal my opened sparkling wines using one of those champagne stoppers you can buy in liquor and kitchenware stores. They do, in fact, trap the bubbles, an undeniable fact of physics and common-sense logic. (You can also use a regular wine cork, of course, just not the original mushroom-shaped champagne cork because it won’t fit back in after it has expanded.)
The most important consideration, in the end, is temperature. Keep the bottle cool. Opened champagne absolutely has to go back in the fridge because cold liquids retain dissolved gases better than room-temperature liquids, and even an unsealed bottle will retain a good amount of spritz for a day or so. I just wouldn’t store it in a fridge that also contains an unwrapped wheel of époisses unless you plan to enjoy the stinky champagne with the stinky cheese.
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