31-07-2017 ~ 2 Comments

Why not to drink sparkling wines in a Champagne glass

For most of July, I’ve been drinking a lot of sparkling wine. While it would seem a natural fit with the hot weather (and it’s not just my imagination) I’ve been tasting a vast array of some of the finest bubblies produced in Spain for a new article about Cava de Paratge. Learn what a paratge/paraje is in case that’s a completely alien term as it will indeed be this to most people.

Along the way, I spent a morning talking with the owners of Recaredo whose Turó d’en Mota I just 100% adore. As I needed to taste a recent vintage of their Brut de Brut which comes from their newly-certified Serall del Vell paratge, I sat down with the head of their communications team, Santi Redondo and he poured the wine into two glasses. One was the Zalto “Universal” and the other was a standard Champagne flute. The reason behind this was to show how much the choice of glass affects the aroma profile of fine sparkling wine.

For some time, it’s been agreed upon in sommelier circles that you should always use a wider or essentially “regular” wine glass when serving Vintage Champagne or other fine sparkling wines. The flute while fun to watch the bubbles rise in, has an inherent flaw in that its design doesn’t allow the wine to fully express itself. This was readily apparent when tasting the two wines side by side.

This wine from 2007, in the Zalto glass was able to express all of its lovely tertiary aromas–the aspects of wine that arise from aging. Those nutty almond notes along with mushroom and dried fruit peel were all absent in the flute. While I would have identified the wine in the flute as a high-quality wine, I wouldn’t have identified it as a 10 year-old wine given that its profile was more focused on zesty lime notes and basic fruit components.

There are those out there with more advanced studies in wine science than myself but the reason for this added expression in the wider glass is that you’re allowing more contact and then suspension with oxygen. Volatile aroma components are able to show themselves considerably better than with the flutes as your nose can pick them up much easier.

So, why aren’t we using regular wine glasses for all sparkling wine service then? When I do tastings of sparkling wines, no matter what the age, I always use a regular glass as I want to really dig into the wine. But the thing is, for all the lovely elements that come out when not using a flute to taste fine wines, all the lesser elements in a lower-end sparkling wine also come out. See what you think of a sub-20€ Non-Vintage Champagne or sub-10€ Non-Vintage Cava if you don’t believe me. The flute does a fine job tamping down the less pretty bits you otherwise find readily in a standard wine glass.

It was interesting when tasting around at various producers as about 2/3 insisted on regular wine glasses and 1/3 insisted on flutes. And for those who brought out the flutes, by insisted, I mean that they immediately stated without any provocation that the flute was simply the best way to taste and they’d done studies to prove it. It’s important to note that everything I tasted was a Gran Reserva or greater given that Cava de Paratge requires a minimum of 36 months on the lees prior to disgorging so in my book, everything should have been tasted in regular wine glasses, but they weren’t and I just have to live with that. These are still fine wines regardless but I’m still itching to try some of them on an more even playing field.

As to what is best when you want to enjoy your bubbly, that depends a lot upon the profile you enjoy and the wines you’re drinking. If you’re kicking back bottles of ice-cold, budget-minded Prosecco during these summer days, I’d say to stick with the flute or even a simple glass as long as you’re not keeping it in your hand and thus warming it up. If you’re drinking something more fine and you want to plunge into the wine, I’d say to do as I do and pour it into a regular wine glass. I stand by this in general for all wine and maybe it doesn’t suit what you’re looking for in the wine, but at the very least, it means one less set of glasses you need to buy and well, potentially break…