Toasting with Champagne or other sparkling wine is the traditional way to ring in the new year, but part of that tradition may be changing. Many bubbly drinkers are trading in tall flute-shaped glasses for something similar to a white wine glass.
When I visited Italy's Ferrari winery a few months ago, all the sparkling wines were served to us in wine glasses. Since I've returned from that trip, I've been ordering sparkling wines more often when I'm out, and my bubbly doesn't always arrive at the table in a flute.
I asked Jamie Stewart, United States brand ambassador for Ferrari, about this trend. He prefers an aromatic white wine glass over a flute for enjoying sparkling wine, and he explained the advantages of the wider-mouthed glass.
"Champagne-styled wines are traditionally made using pinot noir and/or chardonnay, which are both considered aromatic varieties. In still form, they would be served in a similarly shaped and sized glass (Burgundy) in order to fully appreciate the delicate and pronounced organoleptic properties of the grapes themselves," said Stewart.
The science behind the bubbles
These organoleptic properties are the ones we experience through our senses — sound, sight, touch, smell and taste. The shape of a fluted glass may be best for sight because it concentrates the CO2, the gas that makes the bubbles. In a fluted glass, the bubbles seem bubblier because the CO2 lasts longer than it does in a wider-mouth glass, which releases the gas more quickly.
Those bubbles, however, can impair your other senses to fully experience the wine. The CO2 can irritate your nasal cavity, preventing it from fully appreciating the aroma, which is an important part of tasting wine.
The shape of a glass determines how quickly CO2 bubbles are released and can irritate your nose in the process. (Photo: Michelangelo Gratton/Shutterstock)
"In simultaneous monitoring of gaseous CO2 and ethanol conducted through micro-gas chromatography during the first 15 minutes after pouring sparking wine, the concentration of gaseous CO2 is found to be significantly higher above a flute than above an aromatic white wine glass or a coupe," said Stewart. "Recently developed gaseous CO2 visualization techniques based on infrared imaging also confirms this tendency. Those analytical results are consistent with sensory analysis of Champagne and sparkling wines, since it is generally accepted that the smell of Champagne, and especially its first nose [the first sniff], is always more irritating because of the more concentrated gaseous CO2."
In other words, when sparkling wine is served in a flute, it becomes a hindrance to smelling the wine — both the base fruit and the aromas that develop during the fermentation of sparkling wine. And, since up to 80 percent of what we taste is really in our sense of smell, an irritated nasal cavity can alter what the wine tastes like.
Do you need to run out buy new wine glasses?
The shape of the wine glass Ferrari uses are proprietary, and Stewart said they most closely resemble Riedel Superleggero Champagne glasses. At about $140 a stem, no one is suggesting you run out to add these to your wine glass collection. In fact, if you already have white wine glasses, they are perfectly acceptable to use for sparkling wine. When winemaker Nova Cadamatre gave me a lesson on wine glass basics earlier this year, she mentioned that a white wine glass will work for sparkling wine.
Although these glasses are filled with still wine, their shape makes them perfect to experience all the aromatics of sparkling wine, too. (Photo: Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock)
I'd say that even if your wine glass collection consists of a handful of glasses you were invited to keep after a tasting at a local winery, as long as they have a wider mouth than a flute, use them. It's not the exact shape of the glass that will help your senses experience the wine best, it's the amount of surface area a wine has in the glass that allows it to release the CO2. Pour the wine level with the widest part of the glass, as in the photo above, and you'll create the most surface area.
If you start to pay attention, you too may notice that wine glasses are being used more often to serve sparkling wine, particularly when it's accompanying food. Pairing sparkling wine with a meal is becoming more common, according to Stewart.
"The traditional marketing voice of Champagne stipulates that it is a celebratory wine, which diminishes the occasions by which consumers consider it," said Stewart. Sparkling wine made in the metado tradicional style — the method used in Champagne and the method Ferrari and other sparkling wine producers use — creates a wine with "textural and aromatic qualities that are supremely dexterous with food."
"In a sense, sparkling wines are the most appropriate wines for food and wine pairings," said Stewart, "however, they are most commonly the least considered, due to myopic marketing."
A traditionally shaped wine glass, rather than a flute, is a more appropriate choice when serving sparkling wine with meals. But, don't toss those flutes just yet.
Do flutes still have place?
I have always been a proponent of drink what you like in whatever glass you like. Pour it in a jelly jar if that's what's going to make you happy. So, yes, flutes still have their place if you enjoy drinking sparkling wine out of one for whatever reason — including simply appreciating the visual aesthetic of the tall slender glass. Flutes also can serve a practical purpose.
"The flute is a civilized glass for standing occasions, with a unique center of gravity, minimalistic movement in the glass, and a more controlled quantity," said Stewart.
If you're pouring for a large number of guests, the flute has its advantages. Its shape helps to keep the wine from sloshing out of the glass when moving, like when you're standing around a large round table that seats 10 people at a wedding and you have to reach across the table to clink glasses with each person during a toast. A flute also holds less volume than a traditional wine glass, so pouring just a few ounces in one won't look as stingy as pouring just a few ounces in a wine glass.
And finally, when sparkling wine is being served in a celebratory manner, the bubbles are associated with the celebration. So keep your flutes, but know that you don't need to use them every time you drink sparkling wine.