Silver Spoon - An Enduring Myth About Champagne
Copyright 2004 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed December 29, 2004. For more information go to wineloverspage.com
In another of those enduring myths about wine, I frequently get e-mail, especially around this time of year when New Year's Eve celebrations have us thinking about bubbly - either asking me or telling me about the old trick of keeping leftover Champagne alive with a silver spoon.
You heard me the first time: around the wine world, there's a strong, persistent tradition that proclaims the best way to keep Champagne fresh and sparkly in an opened bottle is to hang a silver spoon in its neck.
I've never heard a reasonable scientific explanation for this alleged phenomenon, but it's widespread enough to earn a place on my list of frequently asked wine questions.
But does it work?
There was only one way to find out, and this year, while tasting a few bubblies for seasonal articles, it occurred to me to put the theory to a simple test. Faced with two partly finished bottles of decent bubblies - a New Mexico Gruet and a fine artisanal rose Champagne to be featured in our Premium Edition - I set up a simple test.
After dinner, I put one bottle in the refrigerator with no effort to protect it, just a bottle standing open on the top shelf next to the milk and a tub of kalamata olives of dubious age. The other wine got the silver-spoon treatment. We had to dig around to find a somewhat tarnished baby spoon - the handle on a regular model was a little too wide to fit. It went into the fridge with the bowl sticking out the top and the handle dangling inside, where it ended well short of touching the surface of the wine.
Twenty-four hours later, we tried the wines again. Had they gone flat? Well, no. As a matter of fact, both wines poured up with a frothy mousse, lasting streams of bubbles, and the creamy, foamy mouthfeel that carbonation imparts. I could detect no real difference between their character on the second night and the impressions I had recorded upon opening the wines the night before. We spent a little time closely examining each wine and trying to detect whether one was more "bubbly," but the answer - within the less-than-rigorous framework of this casual test - was that both wines remained in fine shape.
I expected this, frankly. Here's the story: Champagne (and other world sparkling wines made by a similar process) will keep surprisingly well for a day or two under refrigeration with no protection at all, not even recorking or a special stopper. Why? Simple enough. The bubbles in sparkling wine are carbon dioxide (CO2), a gas that's both inert and heavy. Within minutes after you pop the cork, CO2 forms a protective blanket on top of the wine, more than adequate to forestall oxidation and hold much of the remaining carbonation in liquid form, especially under refrigeration.
Adding the silver spoon does no harm, but it does no particular good, either. You simply don't need it.
I wouldn't recommend this treatment for more than a few days. Even under refrigeration, even recapped, an open bottle of bubbly will eventually go flat. But if you find yourself with a little left over after your New Year's toasting, and feel that it's too good to waste, you know what to do!