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  Editorial Issue 103, January 2012   
On Glasses and BubblesOn Glasses and Bubbles  Contents 
Issue 102, December 2011 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 104, February 2012

On Glasses and Bubbles


 If there is a wine of which has been widely debated on the the type of glass to be used for its best appreciation, this certainly is sparkling wine. Any sparkling wine, from the most simple and immediate ones produced with the Charmat method, to the most complex and robust ones, fruit of the classic method, refermented and aged in bottle for many years. The debate on the right glass for the appreciation of bubbles begins after the colossal commercial success originating from the Champagne region after the second half of 1600s. Wines with bubbles, of bruschi wines - this is how in Italy they called them in past centuries, not truly sparkling wines in the sense we consider them today, but however effervescent - were known long before the famous event happened in the Abbey of Hautvillers and that, the legend goes, has in the Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon its main protagonist. The great commercial success made bubbles immortal and indissolubly associated to great and luxury special occasions.


 

 A product for the élite like this, inevitably required the use of luxury and expensive glasses, most of the times a mere showing off of useless pomp. Decorated glasses, frequently embellished with pure gold, golden stems, even made of pewter, silver or platinum, first quality crystal, have always been common characteristics of glasses in which the precious bubbles were being poured in. It seemed organoleptic and sensorial issues were not something looked for in a glass destined for the consumption of bubbles, indeed, it seemed they were looking for just one quality: emphasizing luxury and richness of the occasion, in order to impress one's own guests. We do not have reliable information in this sense, it is however likely in these “social contexts” not so many were interested to the organoleptic qualities of wines, indeed they seemed to focus on the prestige of a label, the value of a glass and the meaning associated to them. I am not saying in these contexts were appreciated bad quality wines: history taught us the very best wines were exclusively destined to the table of the rich.

 The only sensorial quality to which they seemed to be particularly fond of in sparkling wines - Champagne, in particular - were bubbles. Maybe it was because they are typical in this wine style only, or because they have always been defined - in poetic terms - as “pearls”, an object associated to luxury and richness. In other words, the pearl metaphor becoming bubbles in a glass had the primary goal of emphasizing the status of wine for the élite. The first glass to be associated to Champagne has certainly been the coupe. This type of glass has always been subject of legends, not only about its supposed creation, but also about its use. The most famous one is about its creation. The legend goes the famous coupe has been modeled on the breast of at least three French gentlewomen of the past. Marie Antoinette - the famous Archduchess of Austria who then became Queen of France and of Navarre - Joséphine de Beauharnais, first wife of Napoléon Bonaparte and, finally, Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, better known as Madame de Pompadour as well as lover of the French King Louis XV.

 These three gentlewomen of the past have not been the only ones to have made their breasts immortal in the shape of a Champagne coupe: other names, although less famous, have been subject of the same legend. Indeed, no one of them has been protagonist of the facts told by these stories. It is known Champagne was poured on the famous coupe few years after the half of the 1600s - it is said it was 1633 - when it was created by the English, who have always been clients of primary importance for wines from France and Champagne, based on the model of similar glasses already common in France and in Europe. In other words, the coupe met the joyous Champagne bubbles a long time before the three famous gentlewomen were born. Despite the coupe is so strongly associated to romantic legend and stories, indeed it is the type of glass to be less suited for the appreciation of Champagne and other sparkling wines. The coupe is sometimes used today for some very aromatic sparkling wines, such as the famous Asti and Brachetto d'Acqui.

 The decay of the coupe begins around 1930, when in the élite society enters the so called fûte, the famous glass tall and narrow, created with just one main goal, the one of keeping as long as possible the effect of perlage. Narrow and slender, therefore offering a limited surface to the oxygen, the flûte could easily show bubbles that from the bottom danced towards the surface. A glass of this type however limited the expression of the most important aspect for the appreciation of a wine: its aromas. Both the coupe and the flûte were created in order to bring out the only quality making sparkling wines so different from every other one: bubbles, the fine pearls symbol of luxury and richness. By watching these glasses, it seems the other organoleptic qualities of these wines, in particular aromas, were not so important and everything was focused on the visual impact these wines could mainly express.

 In recent years - luckily - they created glasses that, at last, allow the full perception not only of bubbles, that however are a quality sign in sparkling wines, but also and in particular aromas, an aspect of primary importance for the sensorial evaluation of every wine. Today, both the coupe and the flûte, have been replaced by the more efficient “tulip glass”, tall and slander and with a pointed bottom - in order to allow the appreciation of bubbles - however wider in order to emphasize aromas, in particular the complex aromas of classic method wines. Then, there is also who appreciates bubbles - from Charmat to mature Classic method ones - in large glasses, such as the ones used for mature and full bodied white wines, in order to favor the full appreciation and development of aromas, while scarifying the “bubble show” which last a quite short time because of the wide surface of contact with oxygen. This is however something one can easily renounce to, when in a wine is mainly looking for the emotions of its aromas. And you certainly got it: I am one of them.

Antonello Biancalana






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  Editorial Issue 103, January 2012   
On Glasses and BubblesOn Glasses and Bubbles  Contents 
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