André Simon Awards: Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine

THE PERFECT CHAMPAGNE GLASS

Two glasses have been synonymous with Champagne throughout history: the coupe and the flute.

The coupe was created circa 1663 by Venetian glass-makers at the Duke of Buckingham’s glass factory in Greenwich (the duke having taken over Sir Robert Mansell’s monopoly on glassmaking). In deference to its Italian inventors, this style of glass was originally called a tazza (cup), but the name faded during its 200-year climb to global popularity.

The Anglo-Italian tazza had been designed specifically for Champagne, but it was not until early Victorian commerce marketed it as a Champagne coupe that it became widely known in fashionable English society. The raison d’être for its rise to fame was the remarkable success of pink Champagne, the brightly-coloured spectacle of which, in these saucer-shaped crystal glasses, contrasted with the snow-white mousse and was so beguiling that both pink Champagne and the coupe soon became de rigueur in certain circles.

The flute is of a much earlier origin, dating back to Gallo-Roman times. Fine examples made at Murano near Venice became immensely popular during the 16th century, stimulating exports and generating the production of copies in the Netherlands and in England. At the court of Charles II the exiled St-Evrémond constantly tried to promote the flute as ‘the glass of fashion’ and, indeed, it became universally accepted for Champagne in France and England throughout the 18th century.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries the so-called traditional styles of wine glass evolved on a regional basis, but these shapes were primarily for recognition purposes, in much the same way as the different regional shapes of wine bottle were developed. Their suitability for the wines in question was not considered as relevant as the ability to discern the correct glass to pour the wine into at the table. No serious wine lover today would dream of using a coupe for any sparkling wine, let alone a fine Champagne. The surface area of such a wide-brimmed glass is so large for the volume of wine that it encourages the bubbles to escape, rapidly rendering the wine flat, while the open shape is incapable of retaining any bouquet.

THE CHOICE OF GLASS

The importance of the choice of glass is critical to the appreciation of the true characteristics of any wine. Although aesthetics are a legitimate consideration for any hedonistic pursuit, particularly one as subjective as wine, the shape and proportions of a glass have a measurable effect on how we perceive the aromas of a wine and, therefore, the design of a glass has a direct impact on our appreciation of each specific wine. The two most important qualities of a wine glass are shape (as that influences the aromas) and the thickness (or perhaps I should say the thinness) of the rim (as that directly stimulates our perception of finesse … the thinner it is, the more finesse it seems to impart). Thin stems are also important; they look and feel elegant and that too is transmitted in an aesthetic sense to the wine.

The perfect generic vessel for drinking any wine, still or sparkling, is the tulip-shaped glass; its bulbous base and inward-sloping sides concentrate the aromas at the top of the glass, allowing the drinker the full benefit of the wine’s bouquet. And yes, size is important: the glass must be sufficiently large to ensure that a ‘good glassful’ leaves room above for the aromas to circulate.

The regular tall flute (often ridiculously small in size) is commonly poured full, giving our noses a shower of carbon dioxide when tasting the wine. By the design of the glass it appears that Champagne is not to be smelled like other wines. If a restaurant only has substandard sparkling-wine glasses, it is advisable to ask for white wine-glasses, which are often not at all a bad option.

A great sparkling-wine glass brings out the best qualities of the wine, its finest nuances. However, we must also remember that it may well also bring out the worst qualities, any faults or off-aromas. Surely, the better your Champagne or sparkling wine, the more important is the glass.

The beauty of the bubbles cannot be enjoyed to the same extent in the wine glass as in the flute, and it will take education to make people trade the aesthetics of the bubbles for the enhanced expression in the glass. As the finesse of the bubbles (or the mousse) is judged by the mouth and not by the eyes, there is no problem. And to those who fear loss of party mood or romance, rest assured, it will not happen. It is Champagne that has the magic, not the flute!

Sparkling-wine glasses have gone through a revolution in the past decade or so. One of the very first rebellions was led by Philippe Jamesse, one of Champagne’s most respected sommeliers, who couldn’t find a glass he liked and ended up designing one together with Lehmann Glass. The mouth-blown, large-bowled, feather-light Grand Champagne glass has become one of the most appreciated in the region with houses like Louis Roederer and Charles Heidsieck swearing by its name. Krug discarded flutes when Margareth Henriques entered its management and soon a Krug glass was developed. Many houses, such as Veuve Clicquot and Bollinger, have also had specific glasses designed for them.

There are now wonderful overall glasses for Champagne and sparkling wines available. In addition to the Lehmann Glass Jamesse Prestige Grand Champagne, Riedel’s Veritas Champagne Wine Glass and Lehmann’s A. Lallement collection are recommendable. However, there is no denying that different styles and types of champagnes shine to their fullest in different glasses. Aged champagnes and mature rosés, in particular, benefit from wide Burgundy Chardonnay or Pinot Noir glasses. For highly vinous champagnes, Lehmann’s Grand Blanc and Grand Rouge are great and many swear by Zalto’s gorgeously thin-stemmed Burgundy glass.

Taken from Christie’s Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine by Tom Stevenson & Essi Avellan. Published by Bloomsbury Absolute, £200

Christie’s Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine has been shortlisted for the André Simon Food & Drink Awards 2019.

About the André Simon FOOD & DRINK BOOK awards

Founded in 1978, the André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards are the only awards in the UK to exclusively recognise the achievements of food and drink writers and are the longest continuous running awards of their kind. The first two awards were given to Elizabeth David and Rosemary Hume for their outstanding contribution in the fields of food and cooking. Other winners include Michel Roux, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater, Rick Stein, Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke. andresimon.co.uk/

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