Listen to Your Bubbles! Champagne Acoustics as an Indicator of Quality

Generally, it is accepted knowledge that the bubble size and flow in champagne and other quality sparkling wines are an indicator of quality. Many find that the smaller bubbles which rise in chain formation indicate higher quality. Prior researchers have attempted to measure bubble size to prove the theory using technology like high-speed imaging. 

Recently, in December of 2017, research investigators Kyle S. Spratt, Kevin M. Lee and Preston S. Wilson from the University of Texas at Austin (UTA), presented their research on measuring champagne bubbles at the 174th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. The researchers decided to think outside of the box and used a hydrophone device, which records sounds underwater, to measure champagne instead! The question was whether bubble size and distribution of sparkling wine could be measured using acoustic forms of measurement rather than visual.

They were able to measure the acoustic frequencies of the bubbles at different stages to determine the size and distribution. It was discovered that the smaller the bubble slide, the higher the pitch. While it might seem to be easy to measure the frequency of sparkling wine, Spratt, Lee and Wilson did run into some initial challenges. Not only did they need a small sized hydrophone to fit in the sparkling wine glass, they also learned that the vessel that holds the sparkling wine matters. Those of us in the beverage industry understand this to be the standard. But do you know why? Glass is a very smooth surface with minimal imperfections, which allows the bubbles to flow freely to the surface. A material, like Styrofoam, however, has many “imperfections” so bubbles will adhere to the surface. As a result, the bubbles in a Styrofoam cup end up being larger with a smaller quantity. 

For more information, and to listen to the audio clips of the bubbles in the wines from the experiment, take a look at this article from NPR: 

https://n.pr/2E3lV2H 

Pricier wines equal higher quality, according to consumer impressions

The idea of price as an indicator of quality has also been a longstanding research area that has led to many resulting marketing decisions in terms of beverage labels and pricing. The “marketing placebo effect” takes place when products that are identical are perceived as being different in quality due to price differences. Most research studies use brain activity as one of the confirming measures of good quality taste. Recently in 2017, Liane Schmidt, Vasilisa Skvortsova, Claus Kullen, Bernd Weber and Hilke Plassmann from the University of Bonn, conducted a study that continued to study this concept. 

What’s interesting about studying brain activity is the way participants are observed. Typically, participants are asked to lie down in an MRI scanner and are fed the wine through a tube or some equivalent means of delivery. In this study, the subjects were provided the price of the wine first, then they were given one milliliter of wine from three types of wine and asked to rate the tastes on a nine-point rating scale. There were three price points, and participants were either given the wine samples for free, or asked to pay 10% of the bottle price to help account for any biases. One week later, a blind taste test was administered for the same three wines, and participants rated the wines with no prior information on cost or payment. 

As one would expect, the participants rated the more expensive wines at a better taste rating than the “supposedly” less expensive wines. These results, in combination with the MRI scans were consistent in showing that participants thought there was a link between price, expectation of higher value/quality and the brain’s reward/motivation system. This was also in a limited range, as once a wine became “too cheap” in price or quality, there wasn’t this linkage. 

In summary, with all things being equal with duplicate wines, the resulting taste is better when there is a higher quality expectation from the consumer that is due to the price. 

To learn more about this study, go to: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/08/170814092949.htm 

For those of you who enjoy reading about the science and research in the food and beverage field, there are some great resources to learn from. 

To keep up with current beer and wine research (summarized in layman’s terms) in the science field, bookmark this website -
https://www.sciencedaily.com/news/plants_animals/beer_and_wine/

Until next month, Cheers~!

Alice