“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” — Mark Twain
At 16, a late bloomer by some standards, two friends and I admitted we’d never really been drunk. Wanting a quick remedy, my friend had just the fix in his mother’s garage: “Her last boss gave her a case of some French Champagne when she left last year, I think it’s getting pretty old now anyway.” Drinking premier cru champagne from coffee mugs, we spent several hours perusing our favorite periodicals and commenting on the finer aspects of this new favorite beverage. The next morning, the pile of Playboys and empty ’85 Mumm Grand Cordon bottles attested to one simple truth: people should drink more Champagne.
Because it’s a perfect compliment to so many foods — from salty to sweet, spicy to mild, salad to dessert, and most anything else, because nothing makes a good time that much better, and because nothing quite raises your spirits like those little bubbles. And Champagne aside, from beautiful Californian sparklers like Roederer and Iron Horse, or the great New Mexico Blanc de Noirs and Blanc de Blancs from Gruét, to the spectacular Crémants of Jura and Loire, there’s no end to the great sparkling wines out there.
DEVIL IN THE BUBBLES
Not knowing the carbonation resulted from yeast eating remaining sugars in the sealed bottle, these defining bubbles were once considered a defect. So much so that early wine makers in Northern France, struggling to figure out how to prevent this strange phenomenon, referred to the strange sparkling wine as “the Devil’s wine.”
This, of course, seems odd today because it’s the bubbles we love so much. How pleasant it is to briefly tune out during some mundane toast while watching them lazily trail up the edges of a flute, or pool up at the top a coupe. And few things so clearly declare a party as that ‘pop’ of a cork.
Nonetheless, while we see these bubbles as a boon rather than a flaw, perhaps unknowingly, there was a kernel of truth in early, “devil’s wine” moniker. Conjecture has long held that the bubbles may get us tipsy quicker. Researchers at the University of Surrey put this to the test, conducting experiments which demonstrated that 5 minutes after drinking, those who had traditional, bubbly Champagne had 54 mg of alcohol in their blood stream as opposed to those who’d drank the same amount of flat Champagne, who had only 39 mg.
It seems that for delivering and protecting these precious bubbles, stemware is essential. Be it long and elegant flutes showcasing the rise of the bubbles while limiting the surface area to slow the trapped gas’s release, or small saucers arranged in tower, wine cascading from one glass to the next, appropriate stemware is a must.
FROM COUPE TO FLUTE, TULIP AND BACK TO COUPE
Although now thought of as myth, early sparkling folklore held that the Champagne coupe was molded on the breast of Marie Antoinette. Upon hearing this ages ago, and at the time familiar with only the ubiquitous Champagne flute, images of Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour and Gaultier designed cone-bras instantly came to mind. Intrigued, I thus became acquainted with the small curved glass that is the champagne coupe, or champagne saucer.
Synonymous with mid-century, the coupe recently came into vogue again. Perhaps Mad Men is to blame (or to thank) for this development, nonetheless, many purists dismiss these small glasses because they quickly allow the carbonation to dissipate; further, they spill more easily and don’t hold as much (4 to 5 ounces per coupe as opposed to the average 8 ounces for flutes). All the same, there’s something eternally classy about a black tie, a long dress, and these little saucers.
More often than not, the flute is the vessel of choice when serving sparkling wine. There are several advantages to the flute as compared to the coupe. Most striking is the length of the glass, allowing the signature bubbles a leisurely assent. In addition, the narrower bowl and mouth of these glasses result in less surface area, meaning the wine retains its carbonation longer.
Yet, the flute still as a couple of drawbacks: while protecting the bubbles, the shape doesn’t truly allow the drinker to appreciate the aromas of the wine. Also frustrating, is the way one has to upend the whole glass to get the last of the wine. The Tulip glass is thus my stemware of choice.
Really, only just a slight variation on the flute, the bowl of Tulip widens a bit near the top of the glass and then narrows again. The advantage to this design allows for a bit more swirling, permitting one to more appreciate the aromas of the wine. While not usually quite as dramatic as the flute, the length of a tulip glass should still be striking. Crystal or traditional blown-glass, the tulip should have the same nucleation bead at the bottom of the glass. This is a small rough point at the bottom of the glass upon which bubbles of trapped gas in the champagne will collect and float upward.
Whether you’re into the style of the coupe, the striking silhouette of the flute, or the class of the tulip, make sure to get at least 6: few things are shabbier than having friends over to celebrate a new promotion, lament a recent firing, or simply to watch Damages and discovering that someone has to drink from your 4 year-old’s sippy cup because, “Well, at least this one is sort of the same size.”