Function over Fashion
If you attend a great many wine fairs, eventually you will notice a certain Austrian glassware manufacturer’s stall. There they will present to you a number of differently shaped glasses of red wine and enquire as to which one you prefer. The trap, of course, is that the wine is all the same and the shape of the glass changes the drinker’s perception. The same is true for all wine and it is in part because a great deal of the “taste” is actually perceived through the nose. So don’t go wine tasting with a blocked nose, it will make everything seem very bland! This is why we don’t include taste in our criteria below: i) once it’s in your mouth, the glass has done its job and ii) we don’t want to get too deep in to the weeds on oxidisation time differences because most times you’ll drink it too quick to notice.
For our “4to7 rating system” we have focussed on 5 criteria:
1. Perception of colour is important when tasting wine as it will be your earliest indicator of body and flavour intensity.
2. The bubble stream is used to tell how “fine” a Champagne is. We are looking for a steady stream of small bubbles to create a fine “mousse” on the top.
3. Effervescence or “fizziness” is a key part of the Champagne experience. The CO2 bubbles form as the result of the pressure that the Champagne is stored at - anywhere from four to seven atmospheres of pressure (get it?!). Streams of bubbles start in small imperfections in the glass, so we are looking for a shape that optimises the escape of bubbles.
4. The bouquet of the wine is critical in its enjoyment. We want a glass which will allow us to get a good whiff of the wine inside.
5. Swirling looks impressive and professional. It tells the world around you that you know what you’re doing. It also releases flavours in the wine so that you can pick them up more easily with your nose. It is more evident in red wine, but for Champagne it releases some more bubbles and gives a nice boost to the bouquet. The easier the glass is to swirl without spilling, the less Champagne ends up on the surrounding oenophiles’ clothes.
And so, on to our glasses!
The coupe, which (contrary to popular belief) was not modelled on any French King’s mistress’s mammaries, was popular in 18th century France. The Americans only got them in around the 1930s but to be fair they weren’t a country for most of the 1700s. Thankfully the coupe lost this popularity by the time the whole world came to their senses in the 1980s. The coupe’s only redeeming factor is the long stem, which prevents the holder from warming their wine with their hot hands.
Everything else is a disappointment:
- The wide, shallow bowl distorts the colour and does not give bubbles sufficient room to pass and be easily visible.
- The large contact area with the air allows too much fizz to escape and does not do much to catch any of the bouquet for that all-important smelling.
- The open form factor dooms any attempt to swirl the glass to result in fountains of carbonated grape juice showering (probably) innocent bystanders.
All in all, it’s pretty bad for the coupe and as for the cocktail glass, the less said the better.
The clue is in the name. Sensible bartenders all around the world use coupes and cocktail glasses for cocktails, sometimes cocktails with Champagne. So unless you’re attending a costume party dressed as Al Capone or an 18th century Frenchman, leave these two back in the depths of history where they belong.
We gave the coupe and cocktail glass 0/5 as they fulfilled none of the criteria required to enjoy Champagne in the modern age and there are no bonus points for nostalgia.
Our next contender, the Champagne flute, took over after the coupe and to this day continues to prove that popular does not mean best:
- The tall but narrow bowl allows the colour to be more accurately expressed with ample height for the bubbles to show the elegance of the wine (or lack thereof).
- The relatively small area of contact with the air ensures that not many bubbles escape too quickly but the shape of the lip does little to hold in the bouquet.
- Aggressive swirling results in more of a vertical vortex erupting directly upwards, perhaps preferable to the coupe’s but I think we can do better.
At 3/5 these are not terrible. A lot of places will still use flutes and that is fine but if you are big on Champagne and thinking of replacing your glasses then certainly continue reading as (spoiler alert!) the last two shoot the lights out.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, our Austrian glassmaker friend lambasts flutes as “one-dimensional and flooring the drinkers’ ability to appreciate the full range of aromas and taste profiles”. We happen to agree on the analysis and also the solution – enter the tulip.
A relative newcomer to the scene, the tulip has a bulging bowl and a narrowed lip.
- While accomplishing the first 3 criteria quite easily, the tulip also allows the bouquet to develop and traps it. This allows the drinker to dip their nose in and get a full appreciation of the Champagne.
- More importantly it also makes life easier for the modern “swirler” as the narrowed lip ensures bystanders remain dry.
“But wait!” you say, “I don’t have the room or the patience to keep all these different glasses”.
At which point we give you an understanding wink and offer this amazing life hack, because 4to7 has your back.
The humble white wine glass is a perfectly capable vessel for Champagne. Sure they may not carry the respect of highly specialised tools of the trade, but who cares – they work!
So next time Snooty Steve snorts at your lack of Champagne flutes, you can turn those looks from disapproval to amazement by explaining to them that the era of flutes is over and toasting to a new era of function over fashion. For that and all the other benefits, the tulip and the white wine glass both get a 5/5.
And now that we’ve gone through all the shapes and found a way to put Steve back in his place, let’s summarise all of the above with one simple rule:
Demand tulip glasses with pricey Champagne in fancy joints and take white wine glasses over flutes everywhere else!