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Sommeliers Ditch Champagne Flutes, But Should They?

Some of NY’s best sommeliers are ditching champagne flutes, but in doing so, they’re ignoring why the design worked in the first place.

At New York City’s Daniel, a 2-star Michelin food mecca, the sommelier serves many champagnes in a Bordeaux glass–or what most of us would just call a “red wine glass.” And he’s not alone in this experimentation. The Wall Street Journal published a trend piece in which sommeliers at some of the finest restaurants in New York are ditching the traditional champagne flute for any and all manner of glass alternative.

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The unifying reason? The thin opening of a Champagne glass does not allow a drinker to celebrate the aromas as they would any other wine. And as one NYC sommelier cites, an early mentor described Champagne flutes as “old school makeup to justify the bubble”–a novelty to sell carbonated wine.

Alex Freiburg via Shutterstock

Even still, I think the snobbery toward Champagne flutes, even by wine snobs, is a bit extreme. Sure, the Champagne flute–with a seemingly impractical slender figure that creates an opulent tower of bubbles in your glass–is ostentatious and self-advertising. But I hardly consider that tower of bubbles a mark against the flute. Staring at this fizzy perpetual motion machine in your glass is what you might call “experience design,” or part of enjoying the drink aside from simply drinking it. Still not convinced by my argument? Okay, science may have the flute’s back, too.

The slender top of a champagne flute creates less surface area for the bubbles to pop. This keeps your glass fizzy longer, even if you’re sipping, you leave it at an unattended table to dance at a wedding, or any other reason. Furthermore, Champagne may be the only type of wine that can get away with such a narrow glass opening, as its bubbles aren’t just flavorless air. Gérard Liger-Belaira from France’s Reims University found that the tongue-tickling bubbles in Champagne actually contain specific aromas. They pop on your tongue to give Champagne its distinct flavor. Although there doesn’t seem to be any reason you couldn’t just sniff a Bordeaux glass full of bubbly and smell those same bubbly scents, the Champagne flute is also the only wine glass that can be justified in being so narrow because you don’t need to smell Champagne to taste it.

The Champagne flute is not a mere gimmick, but a design triumph in that it’s molded to allow an oneological experience that no other wine glass could for any other wine. Why not celebrate that?

Read more here.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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