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Exploding sparkling wine bottles and jets: myth or reality?

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I just returned from a two week vacation in Alsace and other places. While there, I visited a winery called "Bestheim," which is, in fact, the name of the winery, not the name of town in which it is based (which, unfortunately, I have forgotten). While there, the delightful French lady in charge of tasting, insisted that I try Bestheim's cremant.

In the course of our discussion of several cremants, I pointed out to the lady that it was no longer possible to put a bottle of sparkling wine in a carry-on bag ("No liquid over three ounces allowed!") So the wine would have to go in the checked luggage. I explained that I understood that the airlines depressurize luggage compartments partially during flights. I asked if the sparkling wine, bottled under three atmospheres of pressure, would explode when the differential between the bottle's pressure and the outside pressure became much greater.

Somewhat to my amazement, she agreed that the sparkling wine would explode in the luggage compartment. She advised against taking any sparkling wine home.

I am skeptical because I would think that there would be warnings about this all over the place, since airlines would not look kindly upon routinely transporting bombs (even little bitty baby ones) in their cargo holds. On the other hand, it makes a certain amount of sense.

So I thought that I would leave the question to the far more knowledgeable heads on this board: If I take sparkling wine back with me, will it explode in my suitcase in the cargo hold of some unsuspecting jet liner?

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  1. In a couple of decades of hauling back more sparkling beverages (Champagne, cidre, etc) we have yet to have so much as a leak.

    I suppose it *could* happen....but they ship sparkling beverages by air on a regular basis.

    1. No., it wont explode.

      I have carried methode champenoise sparkling wines transatlantic and trans-europe in checked in baggage no problem.

      Wines for trade shows and competitions are shipped by air, again no problem.

      1. If it is properly made and bottled to begin with, it shouldn't be a problem. If there is a possibility of uncontrolled refermentation in the bottle due to bad procedure, then a bottle could blow...but that can happen whether in depressurized cargo or on the shelf of your liquor cabinet or wine cellar.

        I should think that there would _very_ rarely (if ever) be any problem with commercially produced wines.

        I have heard stories of homebrewed beer not surviving the journey by air, but that is generally because homebrewers are by and large a notoriously impatient lot, often bottling their brews far too soon after initial fermentation.

        1. No. Your bottle is perfectly safe -- I've flown with sparkling wines in my luggage literally dozens of times -- as long as it's protected from being *broken* by your bag being tossed, dropped, and thrown around . . . .

          1 Reply
          1. re: zin1953

            and *that* would be the cause of the only transatlantic casualties we've ever suffered. Lost luggage delivered the next day, hurled against a concrete step by a baggage gorilla. Two bottles, soaked into the socks.

          2. I've found bottles of sparkling wine to be perfectly safe as long as I microwave them no longer than 30 seconds.

            1. Here's the science:-

              1) Champagne bottles are always manufactured with a "safety factor". If the champagne is at 3 atmospheres, you can bet that the bottle is good up to 6 atmospheres.

              2) The baggage compartment on a plane is COLD and that will LOWER the pressure inside the bottle - largely offsetting the fact that the external atmospheric pressure is also reduced.

              3) There are folks who live in cities at around 10,000 feet above sea level. Some of those folks drink champagne and you can bet that the champagne houses make sure that their regular bottles don't explode in those cities.

              1. Hi, gfr:

                Nope, the Weinfrau ist unrecht. As others have pointed out, real Champagne bottles are designed with a pressure safety margin of several atmospheres.

                And if you think about it, all you *ever* have over your head is nominally 1 atmosphere pressing back against the bottle. At 30,000 feet, you get 265 millibars, which means you still have about 3/10 of an atmosphere. When you add back in the partial pressurization in the hold, even more.

                So to run a significant burst risk by air transport, I think your bottle of cremant would *already* have to have been very near the busting point. Of course, in a non-rated or compromised bottle containing an ongoing secondary or tertiary fermentation and subjected to a sharp blow, who knows?


                PS: It's been reported that Jim Whittaker carried a 12-oz can of Rainier Beer to the summit of Mt. Everest in 1963. http://www.beerfestboots.com/beer_trivia There are, however, no reports of him descending with shrapnel wounds or beer-soaked.