Now that we are a bit removed from all the sparkling wines served over the year-end holidays, I hope you are finding there is still a place in your wine life for bubbles. I think the biggest challenge lovers of Champagne, prosecco, cava and other sparkling wines face is convincing their friends that these products are wine first, and sparkling second. In other words, they fill all the traditional rolls of wine – celebration, yes, but also accompanying a meal, serving as an aperitif, and lubricating picnics all year long.
Since I’m pushing sparkling wine as wine, let’s talk about what we serve it in. I think sparkling wine belongs in a wine glass, and by that I do not mean a “flute,” the traditional narrow glass used for sparkling wine with the avowed intention of preserving its fizz. Yes, the shape tends to minimize the loss of effervescence (and is certainly an improvement on the saucer-shaped “coupe” popular 50 years ago), but it constricts the aromas, is awkward to handle and, quite frankly, doesn’t hold enough wine.
I’ve been traveling to the Champagne region for 25 years and producers, the people who make Champagne and presumably drink it almost every day, invariably offer it to me in a white wine glass. Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, the cellar master of Champagne Louis Roederer and one of the first winemakers in the region I got to know, recently told the British magazine Decanter, “Our Champagne style needs aeration to fully demonstrate its potential, so we often use white wine glasses. Some 25 years ago we even developed our own tulip glasses, which were larger than the flute.”
Even Maximilian Riedel, the head of the famous wine glass company, has stated his aim is to make the flute “obsolete.” Riedel, who makes dozens of different shaped glasses, is looking to make the aromas of Champagne and other sparkling wines more accessible. Thierry Gasco, the energetic cellar master of Champagne Pommery and a frequent judge at wine competitions, designed a glass expressly for the annual French Vinalies Wine Competition that is now used for both white wine and younger Champagnes. This is my favorite glass, but it’s hard to find, so I’m most often content with a white wine glass – a glass with a relatively thin lip (nothing is worse than a clunky glass holding an elegant wine) that is well-balanced. And yes, it holds more than a flute so you need fewer refills!
Next time you are at a restaurant and order a glass of sparkling wine, ask them to skip the traditional glass and give you your pour in a white wine glass (or a red wine glass if the restaurants glassware is small). Just tell them the flute falls flat and you want your wine to breathe.