Q: Are sparkling wines more intoxicating than still wines?—Corey, Denver, Colo.
A: The idea that drinking sparkling wines can lead to inebriation more quickly than drinking still wines (and result in worse hangovers) is not a new one, but there's little scientific evidence to support it. A very limited study, published in 2003 in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, took a look at the commonly held assumption by serving its subjects two versions of the same Champagne—one "as is" (carbonated), and another that had been put through an electric blender to rapidly release the carbon dioxide, and which was served "flat." Participants' blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) levels were measured at regular intervals while the wines were consumed, and after 20 minutes, those who had consumed the carbonated Champagne had higher BACs than those who had consumed the "de-gassed" Champagne. "The BAC analysis suggests that the high CO2 content of Champagne may increase the rate of absorption of ethanol," the study's authors wrote. "The results support the popular belief that Champagne may be more intoxicating than wine, although the mechanism remains unclear." However, the study had just 12 participants, and the high margin of error for such a small group makes its results inconclusive.
In 2007, University of Manchester researchers tested the theory with vodka. Again, the study was inconclusively small, with just 21 participants, but bubbles did seem to hasten intoxication: Subjects' BACs were monitored while consuming, on separate occasions, vodka served neat, mixed with still water and mixed with carbonated water. Twenty of the 21 subjects absorbed the diluted alcohol solutions faster, and 14 absorbed the vodka–carbonated water solution fastest. Until more researchers are willing to hand out more free Champagne in the name of science, we can't say that sparkling wine is more intoxicating, only that whichever wine you choose should be consumed responsibly.