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What is the best glass for Champagne?

The best Champagne glass is the one that sets off the elegance of the wine while also allowing a thorough appreciation of its distinctive qualities. Glass is the only material that can fulfill these requirements and crystal is best of all. Crystal, as French poet André Chénier wrote in his elegies, is unequalled for its clarity — a twinkling translucency that radiates the very spirit of fragrance. The ideal Champagne glass is smooth and and brilliantly transparent.

Champagne is sometimes served in drinking cups made of precious metal. Good examples include the silver goblets used by London’s exclusive Garrick Club and the silver-plated Champagne flutes (with matching ice bucket) made by famous Parisian silversmiths. But these are essentially objets d’art — beautifully crafted but entirely inappropriate to an appreciation of Champagne since neither the colour nor the display of bubbles is visible through the metal. Nineteenth Century designs aimed to address this problem by coming up with the idea of a removable glass insert that extended several inches beyond the silver Champagne flute itself. Some of these are on view at the Magyar Kereskedelmi és Vendéglatoipari Muzeum in Budapest. Then there are hand-cut crystal glasses, engraved glasses, hand-painted glasses and purely decorative glasses — all of which have the same disadvantages as those made of precious metal.

A Champagne glass must be functional. Its shape has an influence on the behaviour of the bubbles. "There are round-bottomed glasses and glasses with pointed bottoms, the mousse being livelier in the latter", wrote E.J. Maumené in his Glassmakers took advantage of this characteristic by designing glasses with hollow stems that enhanced the ebullience of the bubbles.

The nature of the glass and the way it is cleaned also have a major influence on the formation and persistence of the bubbles. As observed by French vintner and wine writer André Jullien (1766-1832), some glasses make Champagne go flat: In some [glasses] all the fermentation is instantly lost, whilst it is preserved in others filled at the same time Likewise, Louis Pasteur in a letter dated 23 February 1858 noted that the dissolved carbon dioxide in a liquid escapes due to the effect of foreign bodies Edmé Maumené also observed that there is less mousse in a glass that is rinsed but not wiped because a tea towel leaves behind specks of fluff on the sides of the glass, which albeit invisible, promote the development of the mousse.

The fact is that a glass that is perfectly clean and smooth may put paid to the effervescence entirely once the Champagne is poured. So before blaming the wine, try serving it in a glass that has been cleaned differently or another type of glass altogether. The following story perfectly illustrates the point. One day a member of the Champagne profession was entertaining a journalist in a high-class establishment. Our host ordered a bottle of Grande Marque Champagne to impress his guest — no bubbles. So he ordered a different Champagne — still no bubbles. Then he asked for the glasses to be changed and poured the same wines again. This time the bubbly lived up to its name. To avoid precisely this kind of problem, the best Champagne glasses have a star or sometimes tiny scratches etched into the bottom to keep the wine carbonated for as long as possible.

The actual method of cleaning the glass is another critical factor in the formation of the mousse. Traces of detergent left by inadequate rinsing can produce a range of bizarre effects. Typically, the mousse fails to settle and the cordon (beads of carbon dioxide that form in the glass as the wine is poured) persists indefinitely without reabsorbing. So our advice to restaurants and wine bars is to avoid household detergents altogether and instead run their Champagne glasses through dedicated glass washers that use commercial glass cleaners. Last but by no means least, when storing Champagne glasses in a cupboard always stand them upright (bowl up, base down). Otherwise they may take on a cupboard smell (whatever lining material you place under them), which will show through in the Champagne. To avoid dust collecting in the glasses, simply cover them with an odour-free cloth.

We have already discussed the origins of flute-shaped and coupe-shaped Champagne glasses, together with their respective advantages and disadvantages. The only thing we would add is that the flute, with its tall, tapering bowl, favours a visual examination of the wine. The flared rim, perfect for nosing, is another feature that makes the flute the ideal glass for Champagne, not to mention its ineffable elegance. It is no surprise that the the Champagne flute is the glass of choice for any luxury table setting.

The disadvantages of the flute are mainly practical. It is notoriously fragile and you have to pour the Champagne slowly to prevent the glass from overflowing. But these are minor drawbacks, certainly not enough to deter seasoned devotees of the flute whose many pleasures inspired the writings of 19th Century French novelist Barbey d’Aurevilly. After him, Belgian journalist and writer Maurice Des Ombiaux penned these words in praise of the flute: :What a pleasure to behold is this sparkling liquid, its bubbles hopping and jumping to the surface with such wondrous abandon. As our noble host poured the Champagne, we marvelled at the impetuousness of the mousse, wondering if it would escape from its crystal gangue and overflow on to the table cloth, as so often happens with gushing Champagne. Then we delighted at the sight of the irrepressibly rising bubbles that burst at the surface of the Champagne, emitting a hushed crackling sound. The elegantly shaped flutes were another pleasure. They were all that was required by way of table decoration and indeed party spirit..

The coupe, on the other hand, is the bane of Champagne. It prevents a proper development of the mousse and allows the bouquet to escape. This instrument, wrote French journalist and writer James de Coquet has the disadvantage of bringing your beverage right up to the corners of the mouth and almost the nose. It takes the skills of an accomplished yogi to drink the wine one sip at a time without drowning. Cuisine et vins de France, February, 1979. Holding a coupe prevents a Latino from talking since he can’t gesticulate without spilling the Champagne all over his sleeve (no such problem with a Champagne flute or glass). The coupe makes the bottle easier to pour but otherwise its only real advantage (which it shares with the flute) is its association with Champagne and the spirit of celebration that goes with it. In some circles indeed, particularly in England, the coupe is pretty much de rigueur when serving Champagne. One thing is for sure: drinking Champagne out of a coupe is certainly better than not drinking Champagne at all. In all other respects, the coupe is a leftover from the past and it’s high time to throw them all out. The only possible exceptions are hollow-stem Champagne coupes with a flared (but not too flared) bowl — difficult to clean but otherwise not bad.

The first tulip glasses came into use circa 1930, based on a model that featured in the Baccarat Crystal collection of 1916. Design consisted of a "truncated egg-shaped" bowl supported by an elongated, solid glass stem, now considered the gold standard for Champagne. Note that tulip glasses are more usually known in France (and listed in catalogues) as le verre à Champagne classique.

The tulip glass is tall enough to show off the bubbles and the mousse and big enough to make sense of the wine. As all opera lovers know, the size of the glass is a particular issue for Gabrielle the glove-maker in Offenbach’s La Vie Parisienne:

What I cannot understand
Is why people in Paris
Drink bad wine in big glasses
And good wine in small.

The tulip glass is the ideal tasting glass for Champagne. Its wide bowl narrowing at the top serves to concentrate and also develop the aromas thanks to something called the Venturi effect: the way an air stream speeds up as it moves through a constricted section of pipe. In 1938 United States Embassies throughout the world were given Champagne glasses specially designed by American industrial designer and Champagne connoisseur, Walter Dorwin Teague.

Tulip glasses come in a range of sizes but for the sake of style and practicality a Champagne glass must have a slender, elegant shape. Ideal dimensions are: 185-210mm overall height; 90mm depth of bowl; 95-120mm stem height; 62.5mm maximum rim diameter; 74mm bowl diameter at the widest point; 70-75mm foot diameter. These dimensions represent a maximum usable capacity (ie filled to within 1cm of the rim) of 22.5cl. So with one bottle of Champagne you can fill five such glasses two-thirds full or eight glasses half full.

Biot Crystal Pomponne
(20cm tall with an 8.5cm diameter rim)

There is also the ISO tasting glass — like a large tulip on a short stem, mainly reserved for professional tastings but with a small capacity that also makes it suitable for large, no-frills receptions. One bottle of Champagne will fill 8-12 tasting glasses depending on their capacity.

Then there is the pomponne, an ingenious Champagne glass that cannot be held by the stem for the simple reason that it doesn’t have one. The pomponne is a curved or straight-sided flute with a glass ring or a ball at the base. Its shape recalls the ceremonial drinking vessels known from Classical Antiquity: the rhyton (vase for libations or drinking); the drinking horn originally reserved for Celtic warriors who had killed the greatest number of aurochs; and the glass drinking horns found in sarcophagi dating from the Merovingian period. There is no record of the pomponne before the late 19th Century. French writer Antony Réal makes no mention of the pomponne in the chapter on glassware in his book published in 1867 the contents of a bottle of wine. English publisher Henry Vizetelly likewise omits any reference to the pomponne in his otherwise exhaustive history of Champagne. The pomponne itself is conspicuous by its absence from any of the glass collections held by the top museums in Europe. Nor is it found in any dictionary of the 19th Century or later.

Despite all of this, in March 1875 the Baccarat glassworks came up with their aptly named flûte à anneau: a footless Champagne glass, with a glass ring on the base and matching glass saucer. It evidently didn’t catch on to judge from the letter written in 1894 by French art critic Spire Blondel to his fellow littérateur Armand Bourgeois. Blondel bemoans the absence of any Champagne glass without a foot, a cornucopia-shaped glass, with no foot so no possibility of setting it down, obliging you to empty the glass with the Champagne still cool and the effervescence still tingling on your tongue. (Opinions on Champagne wine, as expressed to Monsieur Armand Bourgeois by key figures in literature and the arts. Châlons-sur-Marne, 1894.)

Pomponne de cristal BiotThe word pomponne is of uncertain origin. Some have suggested that it dates back to the 18th Century, derived from the names of Madame de Pompadour or the Marquis de Pomponne or a drinking song of the times titled Le Curé de Pomponne (the vicar of Pomponne). But there is no trace of any glass called a pomponne in the 1700s. A more likely explanation is that pomponne comes from the drinking game boire à la pomponnette, as described in 1952 by Reims notable Maurice Hollande in his book Connaissance du Vin de Champagne. [1]. The point of the game was to drink so quickly that you had no time to put your glass down, allegedly using old Champagne flutes that had long since lost their stems. Pomponne could also come from pompette (tipsy) or better still pompon. In French "avoir son pompon" (literally: to have one’s pompon) means to be drunk — a likely outcome of drinking from a footless wine glass that has to be emptied because it can’t be set down. Hardly surprising that this sort of glass often has a pompon-shaped base.

Whatever the case, it was probably not until after World War I that the pomponne glass first began to appear in Champagne circles. Some say that the pomponne served to conclude festive meals, others that it was used as a tastevin by masters of ceremonies and wine merchants, who either threaded the glass ring through their apron strings or wedged it into the bunghole of a barrel. Its big moment apparently came in 1962 when the pomponne won recognition at the 32nd Gala of the Union of Artists, as the glass used to keep the audience watered with Champagne throughout the show. Today the pomponne, with matching crest-engraved saucer, is also the emblem of the official fraternity of the major Champagne brands, the Ordre des Coteaux de Champagne.


[1HOLLANDE (Maurice). Paris, 1952.