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For Bubbles, Which Glass Is Best?

The in crowd avoids flutes and flat saucers for something bigger
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Dec 30, 2014 10:01am ET

With the possible exception of playoff victory celebrations, Wednesday night will see more mushroom corks pop than any other day of the year, it being New Year's Eve and all. Unlike those post-season win-fests, your wine-fest will probably require a glass instead of your guzzling it straight from the bottle. But what sort of vessel to pour it into? There has been a lot of chatter recently about glasses for sparkling wine, and you might be surprised by the developing consensus.

We all long ago learned that the shallow birdbath known as a Champagne coupe flattens the bubbles and is too easy to slosh. A tall thin glass called a flute has been the preferred choice because it doesn't slosh and it frames the rising bubbles so prettily.

But a lot of us realized a long time ago that really good fizz tastes just fine in a regular wineglass. Maybe better. The Champenois have been serving theirs in classic white wine stems for years, the better to show all the extra nuances we pay the big bucks to get.

When I review sparkling wines, I use the same glass as for everything else, a stemless beaker called an impitoyable. Its design shows a wine's every nuance with digital clarity. I can taste details that do not show up as well in a flute.

How much of a difference? When I opened a nice sparkling wine to drink before dinner on Christmas, I put it to the test. I poured the same amount into three glasses—an impitoyable, a 12-ounce white-wineglass and a flute. I preferred the tasting glass, but the white-wineglass was almost as good, the flute a close third.

The differences were subtle, possibly because these flutes aren't just skinny tubes; they bulge out a bit. They were made by Riedel, which recently introduced a different option. The Champagne glass in its new Veritas series looks like a classic white-wineglass with just a bit of a point in the bottom to give the bubbles a place to rise from. It's a lovely glass, though they cost $69 a pair.

I am beginning to appreciate the wisdom of serving sparkling wine in a regular white-wine stem. Is it festive enough? Well, I'm not going to complain if someone hands me a flute filled with Bollinger R.D. But I would be even happier with the same wine in a glass I already have, and that displays more of the greatness.

How about you? Does the glass matter?

Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  December 30, 2014 7:44pm ET
I'm starting to make the same shift, Harvey. Plus it saves on clean up.
Longboard Vineyards
Healdsburg, California —  December 31, 2014 11:34am ET
Harvey and Tim,

First, Happy New Year. Few people locally are as happy as I am that Americans are finally discovering the joys of sparkling wines beyond the flute that is shoved to their hand in a wedding reception or a New Year's party. I absolutely agree that a flute is not necessarily the best glass for all sparklers when it comes to evaluating flavors, in production tastings I too prefer a regular white wine glass. However, I would not kill the flute. For example: I find that for well-made (and aged) wines, a narrow flute delivers a great experience - both by allowing a better appreciation of true ageing character in the aroma and by delivering a smaller sip to the middle of the palate first. Then again, I would not use that for a young, fresh and fruity Rose.

I say we all buy a lot of California Sparklers and experiment! Curiosity is the mother of progress.

Cheers! - Oded Shakked
Gregory D Miller
Bethesda, MD —  January 5, 2015 8:36am ET
I've been using white wine stems when I serve Champagne with food. It started out of laziness, really, but it seemed to work better on the table, tasted good, and as noted is easier to clean. I'm glad a better palate than mine endorses this.
Joel Thompson
Toronto, Canada —  January 6, 2015 12:43am ET
About 18 months ago, another wine agent and I conducted an experiment to see which wine glass to use for champagne. The champagne was Cedric Bouchard's Les Ursules which is all Pinot Noir. The results in order of preference were:
1. Zalto White Wine
2. Zalto Champagne
3. Guy Charlemagne's champagne glass
4. Riedel Sommeliers Vintage Champagne

It would be interesting to see if a Blanc de Blancs champagne would generate a different order of preference.

Martin Redmond
San Francisco, CA —  January 6, 2015 12:44pm ET
I prefer the tulip shaped glasses (I use Lehmann Grand Champagne) that seem to be finding favor in Champagne these days. One can still gauge the bead, but there's still enough room to swirl and get a good sniff of the aromas. It's a nice compromise between a regular wine glass and a flute. Prior to getting a few of the tulips shaped glasses, I also used regular wine glasses (burgundy if handy, otherwise whatever was handy). Happy New Year!

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