Champagne Glasses, do they matter?
What is the preferred glass for drinking Champagne? Let’s talk about real Champagne and those wines made the same way, meaning a secondary fermentation in the bottle and long aging on the lees. It sounds simple but you have effectively 4 choices.
Let’s start with why the selection is important. It goes back to how Champagne is made, what are its key characteristics and how can the glass best deliver the greatest enjoyment of the wine? Well, clearly the most obvious element is the bubbles. The process of Champagne production gives rise to tiny bubbles that rise slowly to the surface swirling and meandering as they rise and glinting in the light as they do so. Champagne color varies too, from almost water white through all shades of yellow, some even with the faintest tinge of pink, to roses varying from the ethereal just pink-kissed to darker rose. All wine is best appreciated with the senses of smell, sight and taste. With Champagne, I would argue, sight becomes much more important! The balancing act then is how to design a Champagne glass that delivers the best combination of the senses.
In the past, and fortunately we do not see many of these today, Champagne was drunk from a relatively shallow bowl perched on a stem, the so-called coupe de champagne. This is a glass reputedly fashioned after Marie Antoinette’s breast, which delightful as it must have been, is not good for Champagne. It is too shallow to derive much pleasure from the swirl of the bubbles and too wide to concentrate the bouquet of Champagne, one of its trademark qualities! Amazingly, there is still a following for this glass and it is still sold and available and often appears at large celebrations.
Then we have the classic flute, a long glass on a long stem. The flute is excellent for showing off the bubbles, or the mousse as the French call it. The best are lovely glasses, they feel special and festive in your hand. The aperture is relatively narrow and so there is not that much room for development of the bouquet although I have never struggled to find bouquet with a flute. This glass, however, allows the bubbles to persist for a good period of time. Personally, I love this glass. Lately there is a movement driven by some wine cognoscenti, including sommeliers, to drink Champagne out of regular tulip shaped white wine glasses. Why, you ask? The argument goes that the classic flute is too restrictive due to its narrowness and short changes the bouquet. I do not agree with this, by the way! For me, drinking Champagne out of a regular wine glass, no matter how expensive and elegant, trades some of the beauty and persistence of the bubbles for the supposedly greater appreciation of bouquet. This misses for me; you lose most of the beauty of the bubbles, which fade far more quickly. You lose some of the festive feel, and the gain in bouquet is marginal. The production of Champagne does not lend itself to preservation of primary fruit aromas. The exception is rose Champagne and making this style is a real tightrope act. I am told that in some restaurants, the sommeliers have thrown out their flutes and will only serve Champagne in regular wine glasses. A mistake in my view, not to mention a demonstration of serious hubris and, this is after all America, somewhat undemocratic!
So is there a compromise glass? The answer is yes. Today there is a champagne glass growing in popularity that is a hybrid; almost the length of a flute with a definite tulip shape and a wider, though not wide, opening. If you visit the great Champagne houses today, it is this glass into which they pour their prized elixir. Here are some pictures. The picture on the left shows the coupe and the classic flute. The picture on the right shows the new styled glasses, a thoughtful, attractive and quality progression.
Finally, at the end of it all, drink Champagne from any glass as long as you drink Champagne!
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Selected by Peter Koff MW
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