You know how you like to swill champagne during the holidays? You’re probably doing it wrong.
Champagne is never a bad idea, of course. It is perfect for celebrating all joyous things, including leaving your soul-killing job, commemorating the end of hurricane season, watching that scene in “Game of Thrones” where Cersei Lannister blows up half of King’s Landing or seeing the driver who cut you off get pulled over by the police.
But does the shape of the glass from which you drink really matter? How could it? I have been perfectly content drinking wine out of the following items:
- A jelly jar
- A coffee mug
- A sippy cup
- A flask
- Straight from the bottle
- My cupped hands
- An old shoe
OK, I made that last one up, but never say never.
Patrick Alexander, author of “The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine” and host of Books & Books’ wine appreciation course, says which glass you use doesn’t make much difference.
“The important thing is that the bowl should narrow at the top to focus and concentrate the aromas,” he says. “Personally I like big glasses with stems. . . . Also glass should be plain and clear, not colored or engraved.”
Champagne flutes, he says, are good for watching bubbles. But even that conventional wisdom is changing. Wine Spectator Editor at Large Harvey Steiman writes that “A lot of us realized a long time ago that really good fizz tastes just fine in a regular wineglass. Maybe better.”
Which brings us to Maximilian Riedel, 11th-generation CEO and President of Riedel, a company that sells high-end glassware that I am far too clumsy to own. He is deeply committed to the idea that the glass helps make the wine, and, since his family established the business in 1756, he has good reason (or millions of good reasons) to support the idea.
Here’s the thing: He’s right.
Riedel got his start assessing champagne when he was 18, and bubbly remains one of his passions. He calls his quest to create the perfect champagne glass “my personal crusade.”
“My first job was to work for a champagne house,” he says. “When they gave us a tour of the wine cellar, I realized the wine professionals, the journalists, the people who sell wine, they don’t use a flute to analyze the quality of champagne. The flute was a symbol from the past, something they used in front of customers.”
What they used were glasses that resemble the traditional white wine glass. For its new Fatto A Mano line, Riedel worked with wine industry experts to create a shape more in line with what wine professionals were using.
Because we are skeptical, we busted out a bottle of Moet & Chandon Imperial Brut ($39.99) and drank it from a regular flute and the Fatto A Mano glass.
In addition to realizing we love Imperial Brut, here’s what we learned:
- Champagne glasses should have tiny imperfections — scratches — in the glass to enhance the bubbles. In Riedel’s Fatto A Mano champagne glass, which is shaped like a white wine glass, the scratch point is set in the center of the bottom of the glass. This creates a tiny tornado in the the glass that lasts longer than the bubbles in the traditional flute and keeps the taste fresh.
- The champagne smelled far more appealing in Fatto A Mano glass, due to its wider mouth. “The beautiful essence of white flowers or apple come forward,” Riedel explains. A whiff from the flute will smell yeasty, almost mushroomy, he predicted. And he was right. Sniff the flute next time if you don’t believe me.
- If you don’t have a champagne glass handy, Riedel says the best glass to drink champagne from is a Pinot Noir glass because Pinot Noir grapes are the most used grape in champagne (the Brut Imperial is 30-40 percent Pinot Noir).
- Drinking Moet & Chandon champagne is significantly more enjoyable than the rest of my job responsibilities.
Fatto A Mano glasses and their jaunty colorful stems cost $100 apiece, which is expensive if you’re the sort of wine lover who breaks a lot of wine glasses (me). They are specially designed, Riedel says, to deliver specific varietals to specific parts of your tongue. The Pinot Noir glass delivers wine to the tip of your tongue to enhance fruitiness. The Cabernet Sauvignon glass sends it to the center of your tongue to support acidity and minerality.
“They’re finely tuned instruments,” Riedel says of the glasses. We’d have to concur, even if we’re likely to break one before you finish reading this story.