Most people are familiar with the concept of champagne bottles popping and spraying from internal pressure. We’ve all seen someone pop a cork followed by a spray of bubbles and foam coming out of the bottle.
But in this article we will look not at the regular champagne pop but a different type of bottle explosion. Instead of a spray of champagne exploding through the top of the bottle, is it possible for the bottle itself to explode and break the glass? And if so, what could cause this?
Do Champagne Bottles Explode?
Do champagne bottles explode? The short answer is yes, they definitely can. However, with advances in glass bottle manufacturing it’s fairly rare and much less common than it used to be. Extreme temperature swings, extremely hot weather, freezing temperatures, and flaws in the glass manufacturing can all contribute to a champagne bottle exploding.
Today, champagne bottles are designed and manufactured to withstand the significant pressure inside which is caused by the carbon dioxide gas in the bottle. That pressure is caused by the release of carbon dioxide during the secondary fermentation process (this is the fermentation that happens after champagne is sealed in a bottle).
Carbon dioxide is generated as a byproduct of yeast consuming the sugar in the wine (the other byproduct is alcohol, which is how wine gets made). Over time, since the bottle is sealed, as fermentation continues the pressure increases as more carbon dioxide is released. The process ends once the yeast has consumed all the available sugar .
How Much Pressure Is In A Champagne Bottle?
Initially, the pressure in a champagne bottle can reach up to 90 pounds per square inch (psi), but after a while, it typically decreases to around 70 psi, which is still a considerable amount. In fact, it’s probably more than double the normal amount of air pressure in your car’s tires! Therefore, it’s crucial to handle bottles with care and respect.
What happens when a champagne bottle explodes?
Firstly, it’s important to clarify that modern glass champagne bottles rarely shatter and explode spontaneously, but due to some external agents, such as overpressure, temperature shock, or a flaw in the bottle manufacturing process.
When a bottle does explode, it releases all its contents (and the broken glass) in a sudden and violent way, damaging everything around. The shards of glass can cause serious injuries, and the spilled wine can stain and ruin clothing, furniture, and other valuable items.
How often do champagne bottles explode?
Although it’s not a common occurrence, champagne bottles and other sparkling wine bottles do explode more often than other types of wine bottles. This actually makes sense because of the increased pressure from the carbon dioxide gas that creates the bubbles in these wines.
Studies have shown that champagne-related injuries do occur somewhat regularly. However, it’s actually much more common for people to be injured by a flying cork than by exploding glass. This is why it’s so important to make sure the bottle is pointing in a safe direction whenever you’re opening champagne.
Sparkling wine bottles: an explosive history
In the early days of champagne winemaking in France, exploding bottles were a big problem. At the time, around the late 1600’s, it was much more difficult to control temperature during the winemaking process. After harvest, while wine was fermenting, it would often get cold enough in the fall that the fermentation process would stop too early, leaving some residual sugar in the wine.
When that wine was put in bottles, they would be fine over the winter. But eventually in the spring, temperatures would warm up enough for fermentation to resume. When that additional fermentation happened in the sealed bottle, it could generate enough pressure that the bottles would explode. One thing that made the situation worse was that bottles were handmade at the time, and the glass was not as strong or as consistent as it is today with modern manufacturing techniques.
The uncontrolled fermentation and exploding bottles were a huge problem in the early days of champagne for two reasons. The first is that at the time, winemakers were not yet trying to make wine with bubbles! The bubbles were actually considered a flaw in the wine, because they weren’t there on purpose.
The second big problem was that bottles were usually stacked together in the caves and cellars around champagne. If one bottle exploded, it would often start a chain reaction, shattering the other bottles stacked around it. This could easily put thousands of bottles at risk, not to mention the risk of any workers who were unlucky enough to be nearby when an explosion happened. The famous monk Dom Perignon devoted a big portion of his career to trying to prevent the defective bubbles that led to exploding bottles.
Modern advances in champagne bottle design
As technology advances, champagne bottle manufacturers are continuously improving their product’s design and quality, reducing the risk of explosions. Some of the latest innovations include sturdier glass, a thicker punt (the indentation in the bottom of the bottle), and a greater concave curvature around the base.
Historically, champagne bottles were quite heavy to ensure the glass was strong enough to withstand pressure and prevent breakage. However, the heavy bottles add to shipping costs as well as contribute to champagne’s environmental impact. With modern technology, many modern winemakers are able to switch to smaller, lighter bottles that weigh around one third less than the historical standard. Thanks to glass manufacturing technology advances, this is happening without an increased risk of explosions.
How to prevent champagne explosions
To prevent champagne bottle explosions, it is important to adhere to proper storage techniques. Here are some tips for storing champagne properly and preventing explosions:
- Store champagne in a cool, dark place with a consistent temperature.
- Don’t expose champagne bottles to big swings in temperature, especially rapid swings. For example, if a bottle gets really hot sitting in the sun, putting it immediately in a cold freezer or ice bucket could weaken the glass due to thermal contraction.
- Don’t expose champagne to very hot temperatures. Hot temperatures cause more carbon dioxide gas to be released from the wine, which increases the internal pressure. So leaving champagne in a hot car in summer is a bad idea.
- Don’t expose champagne to very cold temperatures. Champagne can freeze and just like water, it expands when frozen. Since there’s already a high amount of pressure in the bottle, further expansion from freezing the liquid is not a good idea.
- Bottles should be chilled before opening. Opening the bottle should be done slowly by holding the cork firmly and gently twisting the bottle (not the cork) until the cork is slightly loose. The cork can then be eased out of the bottle with minimal popping. This will help ensure that any built-up carbon dioxide can escape safely and prevent explosions.
- Finally, when handling unopened bottles, keep an eye out for any signs of excess pressure, such as bulging cork or excess carbon dioxide hissing from the bottle before opening. If any of these symptoms are present, the bottle should not be opened and should be discarded.
Champagne Explosion FAQs
Will Champagne explode on an airplane?
Exploding bottles of champagne on airplanes is not common. If you’re worried about your champagne exploding in your checked luggage during a flight, I wouldn’t worry. In fact, I would worry much more about packing my bottles with really good padding so that the bottle doesn’t get cracked from baggage handlers tossing the bag around. I’ve flown with champagne in my checked luggage many times and never had an issue.
Will Champagne explode in a hot car?
Yes, champagne can potentially explode in a hot car. High temperatures increase the amount of pressure in an unopened champagne bottle, and can lead to an explosion. So it’s not a good idea to leave your champagne in the car on a hot summer day. Aside from the risk of explosion, the high temperatures can alter the flavor of the wine (this is referred to as ‘cooking’ the wine) in a negative way.
Will Champagne explode in the freezer?
Yes, champagne can explode in the freezer. The liquid champagne expands as it freezes, increasing the pressure and potentially leading to an explosion. In addition, the freezing temperature can alter the flavor of the wine as well as the behavior of the bubbles if you do manage to thaw it out safely. While champagne should be served chilled, that’s why we don’t recommend using a freezer to chill your champagne, as we cover in more detail here.
Cheers to pouring champagne, not exploding
In conclusion – while it is true that champagne bottles can and do explode from time to time, it is not a very common occurrence with modern standards of glass. Proper handling and storage of bottles with sparkling wines can prevent significant injury caused by bottle explosions, and technological advancements made in champagne bottle design have steadily decreased the rate of bottle explosions over time.
So, next time you pop the cork on a bottle of champagne to celebrate, remember to store and handle the bottle with respect, keep the cork pointed away from people (including yourself) when opening, and you’re likely to avoid any significant problems. And remember, no leftover champagne.