Choosing The Best Champagne Glasses This Christmas And New Year's Eve
‘Tis very nearly the season to be bubbly, and yet with the second (or third, or fourth) pandemic wave crashing upon us, it seems unlikely we’ll see many holiday receptions this December. However, when life hands us tart fruit, should we not try to make champagne?
In normal holiday seasons, a flat, tepid or else ice-cold tipple swigged indifferently from a skinny flute is almost par for the course. During this extraordinary season, consider expending a little more effort pairing a great champagne with a glass that gives it scope to express itself to share with your dearest (or at least nearest) companions.
The two traditional vessels for champagne have contradicting pros and cons. The champagne coupe (ostensibly modelled on the bosom of Marie Antoinette) has a wide, teacup like bowl that splashes the wine into the mouth all at once. The flute has a tall, narrow bowl that directs wine straight down the middle of the tongue, cleverly avoiding the most sour-sensitive areas. The former was originally developed in a time when champagne was much sweeter and its bubbles were considered vulgar. The latter came into fashion as champagne became less sweet (and hence more noticeably tangy) and the bubbles came to be viewed as essential to its charm.
Neither however is ideal for expressing the complex, delicate aromas of champagne. The coupe allows said aromas to dissipate too easily, along with the bubbles, while the flute arguably affords too little surface area for aromatic compounds to escape. Although the bubbles (all 20 million per glass) do their share to help resolve this defect by agitating the wine and bringing aromatic compounds to the surface, the high concentration of bubbles released at the flute’s narrow rim can produce the so-called “carbonic bite,” a wasabi-like sting in the nasal passages.
These days, producers of “traditional method” sparkling wines (so called because the term “champagne method” is the protected intellectual property of the Champagne region) like Cava, Franciacorta, English Sparkling wine and many fine new world examples can often be spotted threatening to smash (and in some cases actually smashing) examples of these two traditional glasses on sight.
One factor that remains important for all champagne glasses is so-called “nucleation sites” or imperfections in the glass that allow bubbles to form, sometimes deliberately etched into the surface. In the absence of these, bubbles will form on cellulose fibres left behind when glasses are wiped. However, any oil or soap will hinder this process, which is why it’s important to avoid using soap on champagne glasses while still removing as much lipstick or other oil as possible. Finally, despite the ubiquity of this practice, chilling your champagne glasses before serving will only hinder bubble formation, so use that space in the fridge for extra bottles instead.
The option touted by most producers today is the so-called “tulip,” a fluidly defined shape with two key traits: a comparatively wide but still tapered bowl and a tapered rim. The tulip provides the nearest approximation to a “normal” champagne experience, with delicate aromatic expression, fresh acidity and plentiful bubbles, but with marked enhancements.
The wider bowl helps aromas escape and the tapered rim helps concentrate them but is wide enough to banish carbonic bite. Countless champagne houses have branded versions, but rather than provide them free advertising consider the Schott Zwiesel Top Ten, the Lehmann Jamesse Grand Champagne or, for a sharper effect, the Zalto Denk’Art Champagne Glass.
The Universal Glass
Minimalists among us have––quite reasonably––started to call for a cleaner glass cabinet with only one or max two shapes. Most universal glasses have a rounded rather than tapered base and hips that fall below the glass’ midline, which helps it flatter a greater range of styles. I like this option for a richer, silkier champagne that is less about the bubbles and more about the mouthfeel.
The Zalto Universal increases the sense of precision in any wine, while the Jancis Robinson Glass or more wallet-friendly Lucaris Bangkok Bliss Chardonnay leave a less austere impression.
The Flared Lip
To smoothen the mouthfeel and moderate the acidity of your champagne, a good idea if you’re experimenting with a zero-dosage (i.e. no sugar) champagne for the first time this season, look for a glass with a flared lip.
This mollifying feature can be found on everything from flute-like shapes, for example Zafferano Ultralight Champagne; to wider ones with nearly coupe-like bottoms, like the Macaron Fascination Flute, which also comes with laser-etched nucleation sites.
I love a glass with a wide, rounded base and a tapered, sharper top to accentuate champagne’s aromas but preserve its livening acidity and taut structure. The Lucaris Elements Air, from the range I co-designed with Lucaris Crystal, was intended to do just this. Its tapered base maintains adequate vertical height for that coveted “string of pearls” to form but the curved belly gives you ample space to swirl and release aromas.
The Baccarat Château Baccarat has a wide, flat base topped by a vertical chimney and recommends itself for vinous, chewy champagnes that want good aeration and space to flex their muscles.
See next: 30 Wines Worth Adding To Your Collection