Glasses for Sparkling Wine



Before I met the lovely Claire, I was to music what a JCB is to subtlety. I blame my piano teacher all those years ago when she punished my innocent error my knocking me off the piano stool on my first (and last!) lesson! However, in reality, I know that the fault is all mine – I have no musicality.


I still don’t, but now I’m married to a classical soprano ( I am learning, albeit slowly. That said, I have always been aware, admittedly in a nebulous sort of way, that there is a certain symbiosis between beautiful music and fine wine. The two are synonymous – a fine wine is like a symphony.


Indeed Claire and I have worked together on pairing wine, not, this time, with food, but with types of music. For example, a young purple coloured, fruit orientated red wine might go perfectly well with a light, vivacious and melodic piece of music. The perfect match for a bodega wishing to launch its new joven wine!


So it’s this, albeit limited, experience which I feel qualifies me to write the above title, though, as you might have already ascertained, this article is in fact nothing to do with music! I refer, instead, not to the magical wind instrument (which, incidentally, Claire also plays, angelically), but to the glass that you are probably reaching for right now to relieve the pain of such a long-winded (pun intended) opening to this week’s Cork Talk!


Yes, a flute glass for Cava, Champagne and any other Sparkling wine you might have, set aside for emergencies. They are beautiful aren’t they? Tall and elegant (like myself – well, perhaps not) and in various different designs, they complement the dinner table and perch so easily in the hand as one sips the celebratory bubbles. Perfect.


Well, actually no, not perfect at all, apparently! There is something of a raging debate going on in the Sparkling Wine world at the moment with the ‘abolitionists’ making headway, leaving the ‘old modernists’ (if that’s not a contradiction in terms!) in their wake.


Firstly, let me explain, the jargon. The ‘abolitionists’ are those who want to do away with the aforementioned flute for drinking sparkling wine. This powerful pressure group is championed by Mr. Maximillan J. Riedel, present incumbent of the famous glassware designers and manufacturers, Riedel, one of whose many mantras is that during his lifetime he wants to see the total eradication of the Sparkling Wine flute.


Now, as the designer of alternative Sparkling Wine glasses, you may think he has a hidden agenda! However, he is not alone. Telegraph writer, Victoria Moore (whose recent article was the impetus for this week’s Cork Talk), Federico Lleonart, ‘global wine ambassador’ for Pernod Ricard, Angus McNab, ex-Sommelier, Beth Willard, wine buyer, Anna Wallner, Cava book Author; Victor de la Serna, Wine-maker and Writer – oh and myself, too, are all steadfastly on the abolitionist side.


The ‘old modernsits’ takes some explaining. I’m saying ‘old’ because these were the protagonists whose pressure moved us all on from the ‘coupes’ of yesteryear, the George Best Champagne Fountain, or Babycham glasses; and ‘modernists’ because in those days, this was modern!


The Champion for this group?  Well, an unnamed Champagne producer (in Victoria Moore’s article) who was the only one who offered her Champagne in a flute. Perhaps I’m being unfair to this group, I’m sure there are others who will continue to blow their trumpet (never mind the metaphors, let’s mix the instruments!), but in a wholly unscientific straw poll, there were no flute supporters!


But why? Well, it is true that the flute shows-off perfectly the stream of bubbles that are the nature of Sparkling Wine. A continuous stream of fine bubbles travels from the bottom of the glass to the top, enticingly capturing the eye and seducing us all. But, that’s basically all you get! Whilst the fizz is an integral part of Sparkling Wine, there’s a lot more to it than just that.


It’s like saying that a red wine is a nice colour. Yes, the colour of wine is a part of its appreciation – but what about its aromas and flavours, and more? Flutes are just not wide enough for you to put your nose in and really appreciate the aromas, often delicate, that arise from the wine. Unfortunately, a flute concentrates carbon dioxide at the top of the glass, masking the fragrance of the wine.


(Coupes, incidentally, and apologies to the memory of one of the UK’s best ever footballers, are also wrong, for the opposite reason – they are so wide that the aromas diffuse and disappear far too quickly).


So what is the answer? Well, it’s actually very fortunate from an economic point of view. The easy answer is a simple white wine glass – and the likelihood is that you already have plenty of these. Plus, let’s face it, flutes are a nuisance in the dishwasher too! Whereas who has a ‘man’s best friend’ that doesn’t cater for wine glasses?


However, there is still the aesthetic element that has to be placated. The main reason, I believe, that flutes are at the moment the preferred glass for many of us is because, when seen, they immediately make a statement – Celebration! The sight of a tray of flutes full to the brim of golden and/or rosé Sparkling Wine with bubbles exploding to the top is in itself part of the fizz folklore. This aesthetic appreciation is, for some, more important than the aroma and the flavour of the contents!


Well, don’t worry – you can still consign the flutes to the kitchen cupboard to be used on occasion for a posh dessert or a between-courses Champagne Sorbet, and yet enjoy the celebration of Sparkling Wine as well as its aromas. The answer is the ‘bowed flute’, a hybrid which combines the wider and sexy curves of a wine glass with the visual celebratory impact of a flute!


Not sure what’s best for you and your pals? Well, you can easily put the theory to the test. Invite some friends around for a glass or two of Cava. Buy a mid-priced or a posh Cava, but not one of the cheap ones. Hidden from sight, pour the same Cava into your white wine glasses and your flutes and offer one of each to your friends, asking them to decide which is the better Cava. Try it yourself too.


According to the theory, and my belief as well, it will be the Cava in the wine glass that wins the day – although it’s likely that some will criticise the wine glass, even before tasting, because of the aesthetics, and this may colour their ultimate view. But, never mind, you’ll have a great night!

The Riedel answer to the Sparkling Wine Glass conundrum - a beautiful Hybrid!
The Riedel answer to the Sparkling Wine Glass conundrum – a beautiful Hybrid!


PS Did you know that most of the wine related events I organise are sold out before being advertised? This is because I inform those on my e-mail list first about wine tastings, wine/food pairing evenings, bodega visits etc so that, because of their loyalty, they have the first option. You may be missing out!


This is simply solved though – just contact me and I’ll add you to the list immediately!


Contact Colin: ; through his website where, amongst lots more, you’ll be able to read client comments following his wine related events; and via Twitter @colinonwine

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