For generations of imbibers, the Champagne flute radiated elegance, and anyone wielding a bubbles-filled flute was conferred with a dose, or perhaps dosage, of class. While the flute hasn't lost its appeal entirely—it's still widely used and generally seen as both a sexy and sometimes sensible choice—more winemakers, sommeliers and everyday sparkling wine lovers are being enlightened to a notion that was once considered taboo: the idea that the flute is not the best vessel for appreciating a fine Champagne.
It's worth first taking a moment to think about why the flute and Champagne became such fast friends. According to Moët & Chandon chef de cave Benoît Gouez, the narrow design of the flute was first called into duty as a means of wrangling unwieldy sediment. Champagne was commonly served with, or as, dessert, and if a glass was filled during dinnertime, then the sediment would have collected nicely and neatly at the thin glass's bottom by the time a drinker was ready to partake.
Yet the flute largely has stood the test of time despite the fact that disgorgement—the removal of the lees from a bottle of Champagne—began as a practice more than 200 years ago. The result for the modern-day drinker then is that we've been suffocating our sparkling and hindering our own full enjoyment of its finest expressions.
Champagne Is Wine—Treat It as Such
“Drinking Champagne from a wider glass rather than a thin flute allows us to experience more of the aromatic spectrum,” says sommelier Daniel Braun, the owner of Princeville Wine Market on the island of Kauai.
It's easy to regard Champagne as a category in and of itself. However, it's wise to remember that it is, indeed, a type of wine. The tendency of drinkers to ignore that is largely responsible for keeping the flute en vogue, despite industry-wide recognition that it's not always the ideal glass.
“It's not a Champagne, it's a wine from Champagne,” says Gouez. “This type of wine is one that really needs to breathe and reveal all of its layers.”
Peek into many of Champagne's finest houses, and you're likely to find a flute dissenter. Maximilian Riedel, the 11th-generation CEO of his family's glassware company, says he was inspired to take up the fight and design a new glass for Champagne after seeing that Taittinger never used flutes. “That's why I started it and became motivated to take a stand and change the way people drink Champagne,” says Riedel. The result was a glass with a wider, though still constrained, lip, which then flares out partway down the bowl before constricting again into a still-slim bottom.
Godefroy Baijot, the head of Besserat de Bellefon, advocates using a blida, a type of small, stemless glass used by locals in the Champagne region. Whether painted or in mismatched styles, they're easily packed into a bag for the park or the beach and are named for the city in Algeria where they became widespread for drinking tea.
As for the type of glassware Braun prefers, he looks to the world of white wine specifically. “I mostly prefer to drink Champagne from a white wine glass that has a lip with a slightly smaller radius than the base of the glass,” he says. “If the glass has too much of a bowl, then the carbon dioxide itself can become too pronounced. Many glassware companies are making Champagne glasses that incorporate characteristics of both the thin flute and bowl shape, and these can be a great compromise.”
But Don't Kill the Flute Yet
While Riedel takes a hard line with the personal belief that Champagne should never be served in a flute, others are a bit more flexible.
Not only do flutes still send a festive signal, but in such a soiree setting, when glasses of bubbles may be poured and left sitting for a time before being passed around, they're actually useful in a different way. “There are many occasions that call for a flute, and I prefer to use them in settings where I may be concerned with a Champagne losing too much carbonation,” says Braun. The narrow flute helps a glass of sparkling to retain its satisfying effervescence for a longer period. Conversely, the still-common coupe glass encourages the loss of bubbles even more rapidly—the least-desirable outcome.
There's also the matter of the type of Champagne or sparkling wine being enjoyed. While Braun always opts for a white wine glass for blanc de blanc Champagnes, for instance, he doesn't break out that type of glassware for a rosè Champagne unless it's a vintage release and therefore noted for its quality.
Allowing a wine's aromatics to more fully express themselves works best when you're confident of the results. “The traditional flute may still be our best option much of the time, as not every sparkling wine is meant to stand up to the test of increased scrutiny,” says Braun. “I would stick to a regular flute for most cava, prosecco and crémant.”