by Manos Angelakis
Flute, Tulip or Coupe?
What was old is becoming popular again.
Talking with European friends, I find that champagne “coupes”, the wide, shallow, bowl-shaped stemmed glasses that were very popular at the turn of the 20th century, have become fashionable again.
An apocryphal story has it that the shallow bowl-shaped champagne coupe was modeled in the shape of Marie Antoinette's left breast. Others believe that it was created to commemorate the breast of Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis the Fifteenth. The traditional coupe glass was actually developed for an earlier popular champagne style, i.e. a sweet, bubbly dessert champagne popular in the 19th century, obtained by adding an extra measure of syrup (dosage) in the wine. No matter whose breast inspired this shallow drinking vessel, all oenophiles agree that it might be useful to serve ice cream or chocolate pudding, but should never be used to serve champagne or sparkling wine. The weakness of the design for this glass is apparent; the bubbles dissipate quickly due to the large area exposed to air, and spillage is a constant problem.
Over the past half century, the coupe has been largely replaced by the flute. These tall and narrow glasses, on a medium or long stem, provide visual interest as the bubbles rise in the glass by the use of a nucleation point, a deliberate roughened bead at the base of the flute where bubbles gather. The bubbles then stream up the middle of the glass; the mousse remains in the wine longer and there is little danger of spillage because of the narrow mouth. The flute is mostly appropriate for younger, bolder champagnes and other sparkling wines. Additionally, the shape allows the wine’s aromatics to concentrate, so that it will bring a more pronounced nose.
So is the flute the proper glass for Champagne? Not so, according to winemakers at Chandon, Roederer, and Taittinger. Champagne is, after all, wine. Neither coupe nor flute allows the wine to fully express its aromatic qualities. There are actually two other possibilities, and they were explored together with coupes and flute glasses at a recent Maximilian Riedel tasting at the Manhattan Riedel showroom.
Much more appropriate for a champagne-lover to enjoy the bubbly, especially if it is a “tête de cuvee” or a super-premium bottle, is the tulip glass. The glass is tall, but curves outwards to within a couple inches from the mouth, then curves inwards to the mouth. This design allows a little more space for swirling, and focuses the aromatics more towards the nose. Among the glasses we used for the tasting was the champagne tulip from the new Riedel Vitis line. The glass’ silhouette gracefully maximizes the surface-to-air space, allowing some aeration within the glass and the development of exceptional aromatics.
But, what was very surprising, was the experience I had when super-premium champagne was pored into the large-bowl Grand Cru Burgundy glass. Champagne is wine, with CO2 from the in-bottle fermentation. A great, aged champagne is extremely complex; the larger bowl of the Burgundy glass gave the wine more depth and fully accentuated the aroma, something that none of the other glasses, even the tulip, did.
We tasted a number of vintage and non-vintage champagnes, a California sparkling rosé wine, and a Prosecco. I concentrated on the premium champagnes, Pommery Cuvée Louise 1998, Pommery Brut Royal NV, Bollinger Special Cuvée, Taittinger Brut, and Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label. Of course, Pommery is a super premium blend of 65% Chardonnay and 35% Pinot Noir with a suggested retail price of $185; the others are classic champagnes ranging between $42 and $45.
My conclusion is that a flute is OK for most sparkling wines, especially if they are served very cold (something that many people do, not realizing that extreme cold suppresses the champagne’s aromatics). Tulip is much better, especially for young champagnes served at proper temperature. Avoid the coupe, it might look sexy and sophisticated, but does nothing for the wine. And, any time you are serving a super-premium champagne, poor a little in a large, big-bowled, long stemmed glass and savor the elegance, depth and aromas.
Á votre santé!
© December 2007 The Oenophile Blog. All rights reserved.