Wine Myths: Champagne Flutes

Champagne has long been seen a symbol, not a beverage. It is athletes celebrating under a rush of foam, ships being christened, wedding toasts and New Year’s Eves. It is secured by a twisted wire cage affixed over a bulging cork—a medieval security system standing between you and a permanent eye patch. Champagne is dominated by foreign names you’re not sure how to pronounce—Moët, Veuve, Ruinart—and labels adorned with family crests and calligraphy, and it is always served in flutes. However, the age of the Champagne flute could be over as wine experts declare that wider glasses are the best way to enjoy fizz. Flutes are popular because they showcase tiny, rising bubbles perfectly – the enduring and visualized appeal of sparkling wine’s power to refresh. Many flutes even have a discreet nucleation point etched into their inner base to create a steady, vertical stream of fizz.

The flute also has other advantages: it preserves the effervescence that so easily dissipates in coupes and saucers. It is also much harder to spill your precious bubbles in a flute, while its serving size is ideal for parties. The truth is the shape doesn’t do justice to fine fizz. In the past ten years, a change has been brewing, one that aligns Champagne more closely with the rest of the wine world. Instead of the flute—the iconic, slender stemmed glass synonymous with the sparkling wine—Champagne producers, sommeliers and marketers alike are now recommending that we drink our Champagne from white wine glasses.

From Coupes to Saucers to Flutes…

This isn’t the first time the rules have been changed. For the first 300 years of its life, Champagne was served in coupes—the wide, flat glasses that have now taken up permanent residence in the craft cocktail scene. Though considered a complete failure by contemporary standards—the wide surface area allows effervescence to disappear quickly and the open mouth discourages any aroma development—coupes were well suited to sparkling Champagne in its early days, when aggressive perlage was considered uncouth. Up until the early 20th century, in fact, glasses were often accessorized with a small whisk or forked stirrer that could be used to speed the dissipation of the bubbles.

Antonio Galloni, a wine critic and founder of website Vinous, speaks for many in the hallowed French region when he says: “If you go to Louis Roederer or Dom Perignon, no winemaker is going to say, ‘Here’s my wine; taste it out of a flute.’ It’s not used at all”.

“There is something nice about the flute,” Galloni allows. “It’s like a skyscraper. There’s something elating and uplifting about that long glass. But if you drink a really well-made wine out of a flute, it’s like wearing a shoe that’s a size too small.”

The Perfect Glass?

While Champagne houses used either own-devised tulips or white wine glasses, it took a sommelier to lift the idea from the winery cellar into consumers’ hands.

He took his idea to local glass manufacturer Lehmann and together they created an elongated glass, rounded in the middle and tapering towards the top. At its widest point, their Grand Champagne glass measures 88mm, and even the most modest of the series, the Initial, measures 72mm.

Jamesse discovered later, together with Gérard Liger-Belair, a physicist at the University of Reims, that ‘the spherical shape of the glass, which also encourages vertical movement, respects the role of the mousse’.

Each bubble carries aroma to the surface. In his glasses this is a ‘progressive extension along the curve of the glass which favours first a gradual then a stretched ascent, allowing each bubble to burst at the widest point to free its flavours and express aromatic subtlety’.

The greater surface allows more bubbles to burst simultaneously while their aromas are captured within the tapering top. ‘We introduced the glass in the restaurant in 2008,’ Jamesse recounts. ‘Initially diners were a little shocked, but once they tasted from it they realised the difference.    

So next time you pop a cork, celebrate the wine as much as the occasion – in a proper glass, finally giving Champagne the chance to shine!

References

1. “The Tragic Flute: Why You’re Drinking Champagne All Wrong”. Bloomberg, web <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-12-15/the-tragic-flute-why-you-re-drinking-champagne-all-wrong.html>

2. “Farewell to Champagne Flutes in 2016?”. Decanter, web < http://www.decanter.com/learn/farewell-to-champagne-flutes-in-2016-286743/>

3. “Coupe d’État: The Rise and Fall of the Champagne Flute”. PUNCH, web < http://punchdrink.com/articles/coupe-detat-the-rise-fall-of-the-champagne-flute/>

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