Champagne Alcohol Levels
Champagne would seem to be a light, bubbly drink. That means it's low in alcohol, right? Quite the opposite, Champagne has higher alcohol than many other wines, and the bubbles cause the alcohol to get into your bloodstream more quickly.
Let's start with the traditional glass for Champagne, the thin flute. The reason people use the flute is that its tall, narrow shape keeps the bubbles from dissipating too quickly. The Champagne flute - deceptively - seems smaller than a wine glass and therefore one imagines it should hold less liquid.
Here's a typical Champagne flute, filled with blue-dyed water for visual clarity.
Now let's take that same liquid and pour it into the measuring glass.
As you can see, the liquid is exactly 2/3rds of a cup - or 5.33 ounces. When doctors recommend one glass of wine a day for women - or two glasses a day for men maximum, they traditionally designate a wine glass to hold between 4 ounces and 5 ounces depending on which source you look at. In either case, 5.33 ounces is higher than those values.
How about the alcohol level? Alcohol levels of course vary from wine to wine. One of the most popular wines, Sutter Home White Zinfandel, clocks in at 10% alcohol. A lovely Dr Loosen Riesling is 7.5% alcohol. Looking through the Champagnes and sparkling wines in my house, they seem to range between 11.5% and 12.5%. So perhaps a bit high for a white wine. Certainly in the overall gamut of wine you can find hearty red zinfandels that are higher. In any case, the alcohol in Champagne is well within a normal wine alcohol range - it is not "light". So again in terms of doctors recommending 1 glass for women a day, and 2 glasses for men a day, a glass of Champagne roundly counts as a glass (if not a slightly larger-than-proper glass).
However, a glass of Champagne is actually WORSE for you in terms of alcohol impact because of those pesky bubbles. Strange but true! Scientists love doing studies on this topic every December, probably because it means they get to justify the cost of buying lots of bottles of bubbly for themselves. One of those studies was done at the University of Surrey in Guildford. After 40 minutes of same-volume drinking, the bubble-drinking crew had a blood alcohol level of 0.7mg/ml. The non-bubble drinking crew (i.e. flat Champagne) had 0.58mg/ml - a substantial difference. So the human body gets walloped quickly by Champagne. The study author reported that, of the bubbly-Champagne drinking group, "some could hardly write" after those 40 minutes, it got to their brain so strongly and quickly. Normally the body parses alcohol over time. With the bubbles - for whatever reason - it creates a powerful brain-affecting impact.
Here's the math on converting that finding. In the US, values are calculated in weight of alcohol per liquid volume of blood.
* 1% of Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) would be 1/100 g/ml
* 1% BAC = 10 mg/ml
* 0.1% BAC = 1 mg/ml
* 0.07% BAC = 0.7 mg/ml
Note that 0.5% BAC is death, so small numbers are important.
At the 0.07% level, body effects include impaired reasoning, concentration, and vision. That's why most of the world does not allow driving past 0.05%, including Australia, Italy, Ireland, France, and Germany. In Colorado it's a criminal penalty to drive over 0.05%. However, for most of the US, UK, Canada, and Mexico, the legal limit is 0.08%. Efforts are being made in these countries to bring their figures in line with the rest of the world.
So to summarize, Champagne is most definitely not only "counted" as a glass of wine in all of the 1 beer = 1 glass wine = 1 shot calculations that medical tomes present, but if anything it is a overly powerful glass of wine. Yes, it has the same overall impact of a glass of wine in terms of total alcohol, but the impact of that alcohol is compressed so that it all hits within a smaller amount of time. For that reason, Champagne should be treated with caution. Make sure you sip it slowly, savoring its flavors, and pace it out over a period of time so that it's overall body impact is more similar to a glass of wine. That will help your body properly process the alcohol and offset the impact of those bubbles!
The Basics of Champagne
Methode Champenoise - How Champagne is Made
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