Practical science

Researchers find way to determine whether unopened champagne is still good

American Chemical SocietyFebruary 16, 2014 

In the rare case that you have a bottle of unopened bubbly leftover from New Year’s Eve, you have no way to tell if it’ll stay good until you pop the cork and taste it at your next celebration. But scientists are reporting a precise new way for wineries – and their customers – to predict how long their sparkling wines will last. The study appears in the ACS’ Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.

Montserrat Riu-Aumatell of Spain’s University of Barcelona and his colleagues explain that the shelf life of various sparkling wines, from champagne to prosecco, depends on environmental factors such as temperature. Currently, wineries detect the so-called browning of bubbly by measuring its “absorbance” – its absorption of light at a particular wavelength. It’s a fast and easy technique but not very sensitive. Researchers exploring the chemistry of sparkling wine are turning to the food industry for alternatives. Food manufacturers can measure a compound called 5-HMF, which builds up in food as it goes bad, to tell when to toss out a product. Riu-Aumatell’s team decided to see whether they could use the compound, which is also found in bubbly, to predict the shelf life of sparkling wines.

In “Kinetics of Browning, Phenolics, and 5-Hydroxymethylfurfural in Commercial Sparkling Wines,” they tested levels of this browning compound in several bottles stored over two years at different temperatures: room, cellar (61 degrees Fahrenheit) and refrigerator (39 degrees Fahrenheit). Their study found that 5-HMF is a good indicator of freshness, and also that refrigerating sparkling wines almost completely prevented browning. To make their results more practical for wineries, the researchers came up with a mathematical model that predicts how long products will stay drinkable at varying storage temperatures.

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