The end of the Champagne flute?

Last Thursday, Decanter magazine published several excerpts from their interview with Maximilian Riedel, the chief executive of glassmaker Riedel, on their website. He made several interesting comments about Champagne flutes, most notably that “flute-shaped glasses present Champagne as one-dimensional, flooring drinkers’ ability to appreciate the full range of aromas and taste profiles on offer” and “it is my goal that the flute will be obsolete by the day that I pass away”.

When the man in charge of the world’s most prestigious glassmaker advocates for the abolition of Champagne’s most popular type of glassware, it gets attention. A significant portion of the wine folks I follow on Twitter have referred to the article over the past few days, including one of my former teachers, James Cluer MW:

So Susanne and I figured it was time for a little experiment: let’s open a bottle of bubbles and try out a few different types of glassware to see if (in our humble opinion) there is any truth to Maximilian Riedel’s view on the traditional Champagne flute.

Before getting into the setup of our experiment, just a quick note on the wine we used. Opening up a bottle of Champagne on a regular basis adds up pretty quickly, so these days we resort to Cremant for our bubbles. My go-to bottle at the moment is Langlois Chateau Crémant de Loire Blanc Brut, which shows a nice mix of fruit flavours (green apple and peach) and bread dough notes for half the price of an entry level bottle of Champagne (it usually sells for just over $20).

On to the setup of our experiment then; we tried out three different glasses:

P10408291) A traditional Champagne flute

2) A white wine glass

3) A Pinot Noir / Nebbiolo wine glass

The differences in tasting from the three different glasses was quite remarkable:

  • The white wine glass was the first one to drop out out of the race. Compared to the other two glasses, the wine’s aromas were much more subdued in this glass and on the palate it showed more acidity and less of the fruit and secondary flavours.
  • The Pinot Noir / Nebbiolo wine glass showed similar intensity on the nose as the traditional Champagne flute, but the aromas and flavours somehow seemed less integrated; the fruit aromas seemed sweeter and the bready characteristics seemed disconnected. Also, perhaps not surprisingly, the bubbles disappeared quicker in this glass.
  • In my opinion, the winner is still the traditional Champagne flute. It best reflected the different dimensions of the wine in a well-balanced manner.  The green apple and peach flavours came out most clearly and were well balanced by the secondary characteristics.

I would be very interested to know what shape of glass Riedel proposes would perform better than the traditional flute, since the post on the Decanter website is somewhat short on those details. I’m open to further experimentation and considering the interest this topic has sparked, I’m hoping  we’ll hear more about it.

In Susanne’s words: It smells sweeter in the flute. The ‘breadiness’ burns off too quickly in the Pinot glass.  The white wine glass was just meh.

Lastly, a quick note on food pairings: my favourite is still Ruffles regular chips. Close second is Oka (a surface-ripened, semi-soft cheese from Quebec).

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