What’s in a glass?
You could be forgiven for thinking that all champagne should be served in a traditional flute or flat coupe glass, but for most champagnes – especially more complex older wines – the shape and make of your glass matters more than you might imagine.
The liquid decadence of intricate and mature champagne requires a little more science for the perfect sparkle. Only a wider, voluptuous glass that curves back in towards the top will present the bubbles correctly. Something like a traditional wine glass but with a little more savoir faire!
Ultimately the bubbles in champagne are more than just a visual delight, playing a pivotal role in your experience of the wine. The shape, structure and material thickness of the glass can affect the stream of bubbles, the flavours and vitality of your champagne. It is a key reason that glassmakers originally invented the flute, recognising that the open-mouthed design of an old fashioned coupe means death to the mousse.
The pressure inside a champagne bottle is five to six times as great as the pressure in the surrounding room, one of the reasons that the bottles have to be so thick. Once the bottle is uncorked, the huge amount of gas dissolved within in the liquid begins to escape with the famous rush of the pop of a cork.
The glass you then pour your prized champagne into should be at least well-polished, as even the slightest speck of dust or imperfection will plume bubbles from that point. The only acceptable place for your bubbles to stem from is the base of your glass. Most high quality manufacturers will roughen the bottom of their glass to ensure they start where they are supposed to.
A clean glass will have a narrow plume of bubbles, with the bubbles growing in size and speed as they rise toward you. Pulling the liquid up with them as they go, a sort of underwater fountain effect is created as the liquid then travels back down into the glass once the bubble has escaped. The bubbles also collect aromatic molecules and deliver them directly to the surface to be released once the bubble is free, delivering tiny droplets onto the clean space at the top of your glass. The nose of your champagne is very important and the bubbles present the flavour before you even take your first sip.
Essentially this means that if you love your champagne, it’d be wise to be selective about matching your wine to your glass. In a flat coupe glass, the bubbles are slow and produce less aroma as they flavour is delivered gradually and fleetingly. The flute, however, allows for powerful bubbles and delivers the flavours quickly to a limited glass space at the top, so will still mean you tend to lose the full experience. These options are appropriate for a young wine, but will not really showcase the complexity of a grand cru.
Philippe Jamesse is the head Sommelier at famed, 3-Michelin-starred restaurant Les Crayères in Reims and he worked closely with Gerard Liger-Belair (a champagne physicist – what a great job!) to engineer pure glass perfection. It was remarkably simple, he says. For complex, older champagnes use a wider glass that curves back in towards the top and keep the volume low. The shallow liquid means that small slow bubbles can deliver aromas slowly, allowing the wine’s complexity to properly develop, while the large space at the top of the glass will confine the aroma for your enjoyment.
Philippe’s advice echoes the thoughts of Richard Geoffroy of Dom Perignon, who suggested serving older champagne in white wine glasses to ensure the flavour isn’t stifled. Philippe has delivered on this recommendation and taken it to the next level by designing glasses specific to unique houses and even for vintages, to enable a fuller experience. Cést magnifique!