Once again, the Champagne flute comes under attack. As the (self-appointed) defender of this much-maligned vessel for the finest of wines–those of the sparkling variety–I am compelled to retort.
The latest salvo can be found on a site where I had the pleasure of making numerous contributions: Grape Collective. Specifically a column by David White, who I recall fondly from a sweltering Wine Bloggers Conference where he showed up at the end of a day’s programming with cold beer. (Hero, BTW.) It has the title, “Forget the Flute and Toss the Coupe“. I love a good rhyme; this part of White’s editorial made me smile. Thus my response has a headline that serves as a tip of the hat. (Though it doesn’t flow as nice, damnit.)
Anyway, the column begins with this quote:
“Flutes?” asked Sebastian Zutant, a leading sommelier in Washington, D.C., with obvious disdain. “We’re adults; we use real wine glasses.”
Well then call me a big baby. But instead of sporting a sippy cup, I tote a Champagne flute. Really, I’d rather be an unhappy toddler with soiled diapers than be subjected to this patronizing, condescending attitude.
White (who shares Zutant’s conviction) does have a more nuanced critique of the flute: “It was designed purely for aesthetics; the glass’s slender walls preserve and accentuate Champagne’s bubbles but do nothing for its aromas.”
What’s so wrong with aesthetics? Accentuating bubbles? Taking pleasure in form as well as the delight emanating from a mesmerizing cascade of bubbles? It’s celebratory, whether for a wedding or a Wednesday night. And a flute is sexy as hell.
I was reminded of a comment from a reader on my prior flute missive. When you see flutes, you see fun:
Post a picture of an empty wine glass (any shape or size) and the viewer is reminded of wine – any wine. Post a picture of an empty flute and the viewer sees BUBBLES! It is such great branding that I fail to see how anyone (for whatever reason) would want to change it.
Let’s go back to the main beef with the flute: it dulls Champagne’s smell. White quotes Jordan Mackay, who explains, “[Champagne] deserves a full, real wine glass with both shape and dimension. Such a vessel is much more flattering to the aromatics, allowing you both to smell the wine better (which is 90% of tasting it) and to take a much more meaningful sip.”
Well when I look at the design of the flute versus a “real” wine glass, I believe you are NOT losing out on the wine’s aromatics. Allow me to make my point via this highly technical reference material. That I created. (DUH.)
1. The narrow shape of the flute forces bubbles on a vigorous upward trajectory.
2. The flute is filled close to the brim.
3. Therefore, your nose less than an inch away from the wine. So you can take advantage of the aromas carried via bubbles which, focused by the flute, are concentrated right at the site of your olfactory receptors.
4. Thus stimulated and refreshed after a luxurious sip, you reach for some almonds with sea salt.
Bonus: The Illustrated Champagne Flute
For equal time, fair/balanced, etc: My podcast with David Speer of Ambonnay, who prefers a Burgundy (white or red) glass for Champagne
Unhappy toddler in tub via Yogi.
My only response to someone bloviating about the ills of drinking Champagne from a flute would be: “You sir/madame, are a stultifying bore…adieu.”
If you’re the defender, I’ll happily appoint myself as your trusty assistant. I totally agree with your assessment (and very talented artistic representation) of how to get aromatics out of a flute. It’s a good thing Jordan Mackay recently won me over, as the co-author of one of the best food books I’ve ever read (just released about Franklin Barbecue… amazing btw…), because I’d be tempted to challenge him to a throw down based on that statement. And BBQ would certainly be involved.
Keep fighting the good fight Jameson!
You’re hired. Mackay isn’t the only one to put forth the aromatics argument and obviously my illustration is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I’d love to see an actual scientist measure aromas from liquid to nose in both vessels.
I can see the point if you are doing a formal, noted tasting of a sparkling wine, a flute doesn’t give you enough room to really swirl the liquid, less aromatics as you tip the glass to your lips, etc. But for the other 99.9999999% of the time the flute is much more preferred. It’s more festive, more fun, and as you said, more sexy. You really would expect a sommelier to understand, respect, and flaunt that aspect of it for the customers sake.
Thanks for pro-flute thoughts, especially from the perspective of a restaurant customer.
I don’t drink much alcohol so I really don’t know much so I learned something new today.
Okay, I’ll be the descender in this sea of defenders. Let me first say I’m not about to yuck anyone’s yum, you like the flute and you’re drinking sparkling wine, from Champagne or otherwise, than I am an advocate for your right to do so. That said, I have but one flute in my house and I use it to punch a perfect sized hole in bread before making Eggs In The Hole, (fried bread dish with the egg cooked in the center) and I’ve been a sparkling wine specialist for over 15 years.
For me the shape of the flute, sexy as it is, is pretty much like a straightjacket for the wine’s aromatics and flavors. Always reminds me of when I’m wearing something too tight, I stand rigid and stiff and am anything but comfortable or my true self, same rings true for the wine in a too tight glass. I simply can’t enjoy what I love about, Champagne specifically, the actual wine. Now I think if I were drinking Prosecco or some Cremant d’Alsace then having it in a flute would be okay….I mean, if I had any, but when I’m drinking H. Billiot, Camille Saves or Agrapart, no way no how, I want to smell and taste each and every glorious ounce.
Thank you for your comment. I do see using a flute to construct a Toad in the Hole for an upcoming brunch. And then using that same glass for sparkling wine.