Growing up watching the stars on the silver screen, the Champagne glass of choice was the coupe. The coupe is a shallow bowl-shaped glass attached to a short stem. Rumor has it the size of the bowl was modeled after Marie Antoinette’s left breast.
While the rich and famous sipped Champagne from these breast-shaped coupes, in my abstemious household they were used to serve dessert and Christmas ambrosia. Practically every bride of my era registered at Couch’s for these coupes.
By the time I got around to giving Champagne serious consideration, coupes were out of style. According to noted authorities of the day, coupe-shaped glasses caused bubbles in Champagne to dissipate more rapidly. Legions of Champagne drinkers abandoned coupes in favor of the Champagne flute, a tall thin glass attached to a somewhat longer stem.
The thought here, largely promoted by Austrian glassworks company Riedel and other wine pros, is based on the belief the flute preserves champagne bubbles and flavors longer than the shallow coupe. Thus restaurants and the general public, to Riedel’s great joy, set about buying flute-shaped glasses for serving sparkling wines.
The Riedel family has been in the glass business for 250 years and is now in the hands of Georg J. Riedel, 10th generation, and his son, Maximilian J. Riedel. The Riedel family is known for designing precision-drinking tools, wine glasses for specific varietals. There are thousands of identified grape varietals and Riedel likely makes a glass for everyone of them.
Maximilian has recently begun making disparaging remarks about champagne flutes — how they present Champagne as a one-dimensional beverage. He plans to make them a thing of the past. FYI, it was Maximilian who gave us Riedel O stemless wine glasses. I personally detest the Os, finding them hard to hold and doing little to enhance wine flavor. Apparently the newest thing for Champagne from Maximilian is the tulip-shaped glass with a bulging middle. This is not a new concept. Smaller Champagne houses have been serving their bubblies in tulip-shaped chardonnay type glasses for years.
When I was a guest of the small family-owned Champagne house of Ployez-Jacquemart located near the town Reims in France a number of years ago, the family served their Champagnes in tulip-shaped chardonnay glasses. Upon questioning this practice, I was informed by our host that Champagne needs to breathe and be swirled to open up its aromas just like any other wine, and tulip-shaped glasses are more conducive to swirling and opening up the flavors than flutes.
Styles in glassware change, like styles in clothing. If the latest best thing in Champagne precision-drinking tools according to Maximilian is the tulip-shaped glass, then why is a Champagne coupe in Riedel’s lineup of glassware? Williams Sonoma currently offers a set of two for $60.
Riedel makes a number of wine glassware lines. Lower-end lines of precision-drinking tools can be found at retailers like Target for under $10 per stem. Their upper-line of sommelier glasses go for about $100 per stem. Frankly, for me, a wine tastes the same in a $10 Target glass as a $100 Riedel glass.
Many companies make varietal-specific wine glasses. Tyson’s Fine Wines and Things in Golden Springs offers a line of durable wine glasses for $8 per stem including a Champagne flute by German glass maker Schott Zwiesel.
While it is nice to have an array of expensive wine glasses, in truth, most can manage with two glasses, one for red wine and another for white wine, as long as they are made from thin, clear glass without a rim at the top and sit on a fairly substantial stem.
As for Champagne, forgo the ambrosia and put those vintage coupes to use for their original purpose. Just quaff rapidly before the bubbles dissipate.
Email Pat Kettles at firstname.lastname@example.org