Sep 13, 2014

Posted by in Articles, Featured | 1 Comment

Sparkling Wine in a Flute? Not for Me.

When someone gives you a look that clearly indicates dissatisfaction, it’s a look that tends to stick with you for a while.  Around nine years ago, I can vividly recall the discontented looks I received from a bartender and surrounding imbibers when I asked that the glass of Champagne I had just ordered be served in a wine glass rather than a flute.  I was in a trendy, overcrowded wine bar located in the upscale dining and shopping Mizner Park of Boca Raton, Florida –  only about two miles from where I lived.

Before filling the glass, the bartender asked me several times if I was certain about my choice of stemware, and it was simple: I was certain.

Argyle's 2010 Brut Rosé in a Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass

Argyle’s 2010 Brut Rosé in a Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass

For my entire adult life, I have immensely enjoyed exploring the fascinating and alluring complexities and nuances of sparkling wine.  Before my experience at the wine bar in Boca, I had simply accepted the flute while publicly consuming sparkling wine.  At home however (where there wasn’t a flute in sight), I enjoyed sparkling wine in a number of beverage containers.  My first choice was my Riedel ‘O’ stemless glasses that my mom had ordered for me from an in-flight Sky Mall magazine, my second choice was a simple wine glass with a large bowl (this was obviously before I had moved to Oregon and discovered the divine Oregon Pinot Noir glass), and if we were having guests and we ran out of both my first and second choices – my third choice would be a Mason Jar.  I know, I know – the horror.  But before making judgments, hear me out.

Why I don’t like flutes:

Exploring sparkling wine’s often complex aromas and flavors becomes, for me, a muted experience in a flute – they simply don’t have the room to show off their elaborate components.  There’s no room for the wine to flourish, so the experience is dulled and far less delicious and delightful.  I also become increasingly annoyed by needing to tilt my head further and further back as the glass becomes more empty.  Even with the very first sip, with the glass totally full, I need to tilt my head more than I’m comfortable with.  Which brings me to another point: servers almost always fill a flute nearly to the rim, so there’s no room at all for exploring the dynamics of the variegated fruits, acids and beautiful unique characteristics that are found in the many sparkling wines from different regions around the world. 

The gorgeous Côté Mas sparkling wines are stunning in the Zalto Burgundy glass

The gorgeous Côté Mas sparkling wines are stunning in the Zalto Burgundy glass

Why I prefer the larger bowl alternatives – even if it is a Mason Jar.

No, a Mason Jar is not my first choice of stemware for a favorite Willamette Valley sparkling wine, a Crémant de Limoux or French Champagne, but in my humble opinion, it is certainly a positive alternative to a flute.  Its mouth is wider and the circumference where the wine sits is larger, allowing for the wine’s aromas to flow, flourish, breathe and open up; offering ample room for me to explore the wine’s distinctive aromas and eccentricities (and, there’s no extensive head tilting needed with a Mason Jar).  But what I really want my sparkling wine or Champagne to be served in is a Riedel Vinum XL Oregon Pinot Noir Glass, a Zalto Burgundy glass, or the ‘one for all’ wine glass from Gabriel-Glas – all three are exceptional choices for sparkling wine and Champagne.  With their unique shapes, sizes and qualities, each present components that are superb at showcasing the multifarious essences of sparkling wine.  And after all these years, I still enjoy sparkling wine in my Riedel ‘O’ stemless glasses; particularly when sitting on the patio during the warm summer months.

A bubbly from Oregon's Kramer vineyards goes into the Riedel 'O' stemless glass on the patio

A bubbly from Oregon’s Kramer Vineyards goes into the Riedel ‘O’ stemless glass on the patio

Fast forward nine years from my experience in Boca Raton, and many people are realizing that sparkling wine and champagne can be enjoyed to its fullest extent in a glass with a larger bowl and wider mouth than a flute.  Just yesterday, my wine writing friend Michele Francisco of winerabble.com shared this great read from Decanter: “Should champagne flutes be outlawed?”  A piece that reflects both sides of the argument from industry experts; including, a quote from 11th generation glassmaker Maximilian Riedel, who told Decanter, “Narrow flutes present Champagne as one-dimensional, flooring a wine lover’s ability to appreciate the full range of aromas.” 

When I recently ordered a glass of Argyle’s 2010 Brut Rosé at downtown Eugene, Oregon’s Route 5 NW Wine Bar, I was given the option of a flute or a Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass – I could feel my smile stretch from ear to ear.  Not too long after that, I was at Portland’s first and only champagne and sparkling wine-centric bar, Ambonnay, where the bartender/owner not only automatically served our sparkling wine in a beloved Riedel XL Vinum Pinot Noir glass, but he absolutely agreed with me that sparkling wine needs more room than a flute can offer, explaining that he preferred to use the Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass when serving fine Champagne and sparkling wine.  (Enjoy a fun article I wrote a while back about my experience at Ambonnay by clicking here.)

For a glass that’s specifically designed to highlight the varietal characteristics of a Burgundy (Zalto) or an Oregon Pinot Noir (Riedel), it only makes sense that these two glasses would be perfect for sparkling wine; most commonly consisting of three main grape varieties that thrive in both Burgundy and Oregon’s Willamette Valley: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier (a red grape related to Pinot Noir).

The shape of the 'one for all' Gabriel Glas is great for sparkling wine and Champagne

The shape of the ‘one for all’ Gabriel Glas is great for sparkling wine and Champagne

Flute enthusaist’s always tend to agree with each other on one point: “bubbles go flat and dissipate quicker in glasses other than flutes.”  My argument to that is, “the bubbles in my glass never sit long enough to go flat or dissipate.”