Our choice of glassware should fit the wine, and the occasion. With Champagne or other sparkling wine, the traditional flute or coupe glasses are fine for toasting (although the coupe can slosh and spill easily), making them good choices for New Year’s parties or wedding receptions. The flute shape especially emphasizes the bubbles; both are small and help stretch a bottle (and your budget) over a crowd.
But if you’re drinking your Champagne with a meal — and there’s no reason not to — the flute or coupe may not be ideal. Neither allows us to “appreciate” the bubbly the way we might any other fine wine, by sticking our schnoz into the glass and inhaling deeply to savor the fruit and mineral notes. That’s why glass makers have developed wider flutes, including this French glass I wrote about previously on the blog. Incidentally, that item from 2012 shows up repeatedly as the most popular post on this blog according to search engine results. So I’m chagrined to say that maybe “perfect” was overstating it.
And to be honest, my wife and I had resorted to using our regular white wine glasses for sparkling wine. And now I’m questioning that, too. Here’s my recent Washington Post column about a new glass for Champagne from Riedel, and my very enjoyable research into how various glasses performed with a single bottle of Champers.
The vast majority of Champagne and other sparkling wines sold in the United States this year will be purchased in December. Most of it will lubricate our holiday parties or pre-dinner conversations, and of course our New Year’s toasts. We will drink it out of tall, narrow flutes or wide, shallow coupes, two styles of wine glasses that have become synonymous with Champagne.
Maximilian Riedel wants us to leave those flutes and coupes in the cupboard. Riedel is the guru of glassware, the 11th generation to helm his family firm of the same name and the third to specialize in stemware for wine. The Riedel company produces several lines of stems designed to match specific grape varieties: one shape for cabernet sauvignon, another for Riesling and a third for chardonnay, for example. The idea is that the right glass can enhance our experience of wine’s aromas and flavors.
This year, Riedel released a new stem specifically for Champagne. The Riedel Veritas Champagne glass resembles a tulip-shaped white wine stem. And that’s the point: Champagne is a fine wine meant to be consumed with food, not just sipped at celebrations. And its flavor and aromas are at least as important as the bubbles.
“Wine has a beautiful perfume, which you cannot taste, only smell,” Riedel explained during a recent telephone interview. “Flutes don’t allow us to dunk our noses into the glass and experience the perfume.”
Several Champagne producers I’ve spoken to also flunk the flute. “I don’t use classic Champagne flutes anymore,” Benoit Gouez, chef de cave for Moët et Chandon, said in an interview last year, explaining his preference for a white wine glass. “The larger glass helps the wine open up. The more it breathes, the more fruity and expansive it becomes.”
The Riedel Veritas is not the company’s first foray into Champagne-specific glassware. Riedel has produced glasses for several Champagne houses, such as Krug, Moët et Chandon and Veuve Clicquot. Because each house creates its own specific blend from the three Champagne grapes of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay, each glass was “completely different,” Riedel says, though the differences may seem subtle if we examine the glasses side-by-side. The new glass is meant to be an all-purpose stem for basic cuvées, vintage Champagnes, and all-chardonnay blanc-de-blancs, Riedel explained. He prefers to drink pinot noir-based Champagnes and rosés from his New World Pinot Noir glass, with a much larger bowl and a flared rim.
But do we really need another wine glass? The Riedel Veritas Champagne glass is not cheap at $70 for a set of two. So I set out to do some fun research. First, I sampled a Champagne from the new Riedel glass and from my everyday white wine glass, a Schott Zwiesel Forte, about $10 per stem. The glasses have similar shapes, but the wine tasted much fruitier from the Riedel, and after a few minutes in the Forte glass, the wine’s bubbles dissipated. (The new glass has the traditional laser-etched scratch point at the bottom of the bowl to anchor the bead of bubbles.)
Then I duplicated the experiment with seven glasses, including a traditional straight flute and two other Champagne glasses with slightly wider bowls. Once again, the new Riedel glass had a clear edge: The wine’s fruit aromas leapt from the glass, and the wine tasted very lively. In my everyday Forte glass (the one I’ve been using for sparkling wine, thinking myself oh so courant) the wine was a dud. So too in the flute, which offered no aroma and little flavor beyond the fizz. (The flute was a Riedel Vinum, by the way, at $32 a stem.)
The clear second-place finisher was the Spiegelau Hybrid flute, which like me sports a bulge in the middle, enough room to let the wine shine. At $12 a stem, it was a clear value, too. (Spiegelau is owned by Riedel.)
According to Champagne lore, Dom Perignon designed the flute so Champagne would have a glass to distinguish it from other wines. Now Champagne is trying to rejoin the fold and gain recognition as a fine wine.
And what about the coupe, widely derided because it allows the wine’s aromas and bubbles to dissipate? Riedel discounts the legend that the coupe was modeled after Marie Antoinette’s left breast, noting that the glass only gained favor in the 1930s. That didn’t stop model Kate Moss from commissioning a glass modeled after her own left breast. She unveiled it at a bubbly soaked London soiree in October.
“We were asked to design it,” Riedel said wistfully. “I was ready to fly there and measure it, but we decided not to do it.”
Postscript: Maximilian Riedel was especially proud of the stem on the new Champagne glass. He explained that his company had been working for years with great effort and expense to develop a molded stem that has the same feel as a hand-blown stem. That means without the noticeable seams that stretch from the foot of the glass to the bowl. These seams aren’t always visible, but you can feel them as you twirl the glass between thumb and forefinger. With the new Riedel Veritas Champagne glass, the twirling is smooth and effortless, with no perceptible irregularity in the stem. This is a minor point that most wine drinkers might miss, but Riedel’s pride in pointing it out to me shows his dedication to his craft.