Food & Drink

Experimenting With A Coupe, Flute And Wine Glass For Your New Year’s Eve Bubbly – A Conversation With Georg Riedel

When asked if he would drink Champagne out of a plastic glass if trapped on a bus in a snow storm, Georg Riedel, Owner of Riedel Wine Glass Company, quickly responded, “Yes, I would open the bottle, pour it into plastic glasses and share it with everyone on the bus. Nothing in life is better than sharing.”

This response clearly highlights the values of Georg Riedel, and the hope that the 423 different types of glasses and carafes available on his website will be used in celebrations with friends and family. Born in Austria, Riedel is the 10th generation of a 265 year old family business that crafts high quality stemware. After serving as CEO of Riedel for 20 years, Riedel’s son, Maximilian Riedel, took over as CEO in 2014. Today the company produces not only wine and Champagne glasses, but beer, spirits, and cocktail glasses as well.

Speaking by phone from his winter home in Arizona, Riedel shared some insights into what type of glass to use to drink bubbles for New Year’s Eve, as well as the evolution of the Champagne glass. He mentioned that this advice applies to all types of bubbles, including Prosecco, Cava, German Sekt, Cremant, Franciacorta, and sparkling wines from the U.S. and other countries, along with Champagne from France.

The Evolution of the Champagne Glass – From Coupe to Flute to Wine Glass

The Coupe – According to Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine, the Champagne coupe, shaped like a shallow bowl with a stem, was developed in the mid 1600’s by Venetian glass makers. It became quite popular in the court of French king Louis XV in the 1700’s, and a rumor developed that its shape was based on the breast of Marie Antoinette. Other stories insist that Helen of Troy was the breast model for the glass, because breast-shaped cups (without a stem) were popular with the ancient Greeks. Unfortunately there is no hard evidence for either rumor, but there is a much more practical reason for adopting the coupe at that time.

“Champagne was originally very sweet and had sediment,” explained Riedel. Therefore it was the custom to sip off the top clear part of the bubbly, and then to turn the coupe over to drain out the sediment, before refilling your glass for the next sip. “It was also the fashion to serve it with dessert and dip cake in it,” Riedel added. Though popular for many years, and quite the rage in the U.S. from the roaring 1920’s to the 1950’s, the coupe fell out of fashion to be replaced by the flute.

The Flute – The tall slender Champagne flute is actually based on a design dating back to the Gallo-Roman times, but wasn’t accepted in France and England until the 1800’s. In the US, it started to gain more popularity in the 1960’s, and soon became a symbol of celebration.

“The flute was used originally at stand-up receptions and toasting celebrations,” explained Riedel. “Not only can use see the effervescent bubbles more clearly in a flute, but you are less likely to have Champagne spilled on you at a reception, as you would with a coupe.”

The Wine Glass – In the past decade however, many wine connoisseurs and professionals have switched to wine glasses, or Champagne glasses that resemble wine glasses, to better enjoy the bubbly drink.

“The issue with the coupe and flute,” reported Riedel, “is that they give you very little aroma, whereas a wine glass offers wonderful expressions of quality and nuances, such as brioche, yeast, and nutty aromas, that you can enjoy.”

However, Riedel offers all three styles of glasses, and many others as well for Champagne and sparkling wine. “We carry everything, because if the customer wants it and looks for it, we will offer it.”

An Experiment – Georg Riedel suggested an interesting experiment for New Year’s Eve or other occasions with sparkling wine. “Try all three glasses and decide which you prefer. You will notice that the biggest disadvantage of the coupe is that it has zero aroma; second is that you need to sip, and sipping creates an under-pressure that causes a foam carpet in your mouth. You need to let this settle before you can actually taste. Also with a coupe you need to lower your head, whereas with a flute you raise your head and create a flow verses under-pressure.”

The flute also allows you to appreciate the bubbles streaming upwards, but rather than complex aromas filling your nose, often there is only a prickle of carbon-dioxide (CO2) bubbles. Therefore a classic white wine glass, or a tear-shaped Champagne glass with a larger surface area, allows you to appreciate the aesthetics of the bubbles and also better appreciate the aromas.

A Scratch or Grain of Rice to Excite the Bubbles

Interestingly, most well-made Champagne and sparkling wine glasses are crafted with tiny scratches in the glass. The CO2 gas is attracted to these scratches and forms bubbles that escape upwards. Well-made beer glasses also contain these tiny incisions, which are often etched by lasers.

“We create a scratch mark at the bottom of all of our Champagne glasses,” explained Riedel. “Also, another interesting experiment is to add a dry grain of rice to your glass. It will not change the taste of the sparkling wine, but will create a perfect stream of bubbles.”

Champagne Houses Design Custom Glasses to Showcase Individual Styles

“We have worked with many Champagne Houses to create customized sparkling wine glasses designed to highlight the individual style of their house cuvee,” reported Riedel. “For example, we have designed special glasses for Krug and Dom Perignon.” Indeed, the Riedel Champagne Dom Perignon glass is available for sale on the Riedel website.

New Champagne Glass Designs for the Future and What To Use Now

In 2020, Riedel released a new collection called WineWings, that features glasses with flat-bottoms. This collection includes a Champagne glass with rippling sides and a flat bottom. Riedel designers believe this glass allows aromas and flavors to be concentrated even more than in other designs.

When asked which glass he will be using this year for a New Year’s toast, and what he would recommend for others, Riedel responded, “We will be using the new WineWings Champagne glass, but there are many other excellent options as well. A regular white wine glass will work fine. I also think our Riedel Vinum Champagne glass, which is more tear-shaped and widely available is a great choice. We also find the Riedel High Performance Champagne glasses are quite elegant.”

The Competitive Market for Champagne Glasses

Though Riedel has over 250 years of experience making fine stemware, it operates in a very competitive field. Other companies offering Champagne and wine glasses include: Schott Zwiesel, Spiegelau, Zalto, Grassl, Josephinenhütte, Mikassa, and Luxbe, amongst others. More recently female wine experts have been entering the lucrative wine glass market with new designs. Examples are: The One by MS Andrea Robinson, Flavor First by Karen McNeil and The Jancis Robinson Wine Glass Collection.

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