Champagne producers flunk the flute

FLUTE FAIL: Some experts say traditional flutes don't allow the wine to 'open up'.
Reuters

FLUTE FAIL: Some experts say traditional flutes don't allow the wine to 'open up'.

The vast majority of champagne and other sparkling wines sold 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 wineglasses that have become synonymous with champagne.

Maximilian Riedel wants us to leave those flutes and coupes in the cupboard.

He is the guru of glassware, the 11th generation to helm the firm that bears his family name and the third to specialize in stemware for wine. The Riedel company produces several lines of stems designed to match specific grape varieties.

This year, Riedel released a new stem specifically for champagne. The Riedel Veritas champagne glass resembles a tulip-shaped white wine stem, making the point that champagne is a fine wine meant to be consumed with food, not just sipped at celebrations. 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. "Flutes don't allow us to dunk our noses into the glass and experience the perfume."

Several champagne producers I've spoken with also flunk the flute.

"I don't use classic champagne flutes anymore," Benoit Gouez, chef de cave for Moet et Chandon, told me 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 Veritas is not the company's first foray into champagne-specific glassware. Riedel has produced glasses for several champagne houses, such as Krug, Moet 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 might seem subtle when we examine the glasses side by side.

The new glass is meant to be an all-purpose stem for basic cuvees, vintage champagnes and all-chardonnay blanc-de-blancs, Riedel said. He prefers to drink pinot noir-based champagnes and roses from his New World Pinot Noir glass, with a much larger bowl and a flared rim.

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But do we really need another wineglass? The Veritas champagne glass is not cheap: $US70 ($90) 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 $US10 per stem). The glasses have similar shapes, but the wine tasted much fruitier from the Riedel. 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 other glasses, including a traditional straight flute and two other flared champagne glasses with slightly wider rims. Once again, the new Riedel glass had a clear edge: The wine tasted very lively. In my everyday Forte glass, the wine was a dud. So, too, in the flute, which offered no aroma and little flavor beyond the fizz. (The flute was a $US32 Riedel Vinum.)

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 $US12 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 winemakers want champagne 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? Indeed, when I tried a coupe, the wine lost its fizz and fell flat within minutes.

Riedel discounts the legend that the coupe was modeled after Marie Antoinette's left breast, noting that the glass didn't gain favor until 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.

 - The Washington Post

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