The Evolution of Champagne Glassware

or, “No Bubbles, Yes Bubbles, No Bubbles!”

The popularity of various glassware designs for the enjoyment of Champagne has taken, though few in number, significant turns over the centuries, based to a significant extent on the desire and enjoyment of effervescence over other elements of taste and aroma.

When effervescence first became a desired quality as opposed to a fault to be avoided by winemakers, drinking vessels were made from metal or ceramics. Glassware blown for the purpose of creating drinking “glasses” actually developed in a similar time period as did the
first intentional and deliberate significant increase in the production of sparkling wines, during the late 1600s and early 1700s.

The invention of the Champagne coupe, or “saucer”, the first piece of glassware designed and created for Champagne, can be specifically traced to the year 1663, and in England. This fact has, however, failed to put to rest the ongoing legend that the design of the coupe was modeled to replicate the shape of of the breast of Marie Antoinette. Since she was not born until 1755, any truth to the fable is minimal at best. Alternatively, other famous women through history have also been said to have been the model for the design, from Madame de Pompadour, also no born until longer afterwards (1721), Madame du Barry (b. 1744), and Empress Josephine (b. 1763), to some who did live earlier, who whose likelihood of having been the model seems just as unrealistic. These include Helen of Troy and Diane
de Poitiers (1499-1566), mistress of Henry II.

In actuality however, the shape of the coupe was designed for a specific purpose, to aid in the quickest release and dispensing of bubbles from the Champagne. The wide, flat design featured a broad surface of air hitting wine, in order to allow the effervescence to disappear quickly, to quickly dissipate the perlage. Caring little for the effervescence, or for capturing the aroma of the beverage, Champagne drinkers for centuries wanted the taste and little more. In fact, in the early 1900s, it was not uncommon for coupe to come accessorized with a stirrer for the drinker to use to hasten even more the evaporation of the bubbles in their glass.

But, as years and decades passed, by the mid-twentieth century, tastes changed, and Champagne drinkers began to appreciate much more the added element of effervescence and the benefits of trapping the aroma in the vessel for as long as possible. Thus, the flute, in existence though possessing limited popularity since the early 1700s, began to find more and more of a place among Champagne aficionados,
The tall, thin, slightly inwardly curved flute lets the drinker see the gentle rise of the bubbles through the liquid, helps to modulate nucleation and keep the bubbles from leaving the liquid prior to drinking, and will in part regulate and reduce the oxygen-to-wine ratio enhancing both aroma and taste.

Though it must conform to some basic specifications to be called a “flute”, the Champagne flute has seen many incarnations, has seen many design and style variations as to shape, and while generally constructed primarily of clear glass, from recycled materials to the finest crystal exclusive manufacturers can produce, flutes have been made in midnight black, ruby red, and in color combinations - sort of
squelching that idea of watching the bubbles rise through the liquid - and have been made with gold and platinum decorations, with silver bands, with precious gems attached, and in other unusual and even unique design modifications.

But it has been the nature of Champagne itself, and other sparkling wines, that has recently fueled the desire for a change in how it is served. Champagne grape growers more now than ever before divert their crops from the major Champagne producers, instead selling to smaller companies and in fact, more now than in the past, producing their own “Grower Champagne” labels. So many new artisanal Champagnes are only part of a more diverse world of Champagne, including the use of riper and riper grapes leading to bolder flavors, and the desire of consumers to enjoy more than ever the actual flavor of their drinks, rather than merely luxuriating in the excitement of the bubbles.

Thus the first two stages of Champagne drinking were “no bubbles” with the coupe, and then “yes bubbles” with the flute. So what of today, and at least in part, a return to “no bubbles”?

The answer is the white wine glass, in particular the tulip glass, which now has become the vessel of choice among many Champagne drinkers. In fact, the white wine glass by belling out in the middle allows the Champagne’s aromas to develop in contact with the air, and the taper at the mouth still preserves carbonation. The subtle aspects of a fine wine, such as the terroir and associated regional flavors now are more important to Champagne drinkers, and a glass more properly attuned to such needs and desires is now the popular choice.
“No Bubbles, Yes Bubbles, No Bubbles!” For now, at least.

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