Breaking Glass – Which Fizz Glasses are best?
One rainy Sunday afternoon I tested the suitability of various glasses for fizz in an experiment called Breaking Glass. What stemware works best for bubbly?
Admittedly my Breaking Glass test was conducted without much scientific rigour. Different glasses were hand-washed beforehand to ensure there were no lingering traces of detergent, which kills bubbles stone dead. Dishwashers can leave soap residues, so it’s worth rinsing and drying by hand.
A bottle of Franciacorta Brut NV was employed, an excellent fizz with which I have become unnaturally familiar. Equal amounts were poured into each glass and observations made. They were then topped-up and observed over the next thirty minutes before tasting. Resisting the temptation to drink from them during that time was the only hard part.
Fizz glasses need to satisfy several needs. The glass should be clear to allow the contents to convey visual pleasure, which is especially important with bubbly. So coloured or cut glass spoils the view. A stem should enable easy handling and the all-important swirling that encourages the volatile components in the wine to escape to the nose. Hence a glass that narrows slightly toward the rim will collect the vapour for nosing. A thin edge is needed too, as it helps the delivery of the wine into the mouth, generally giving a nicer tasting experience. As some glasses can be expensive, consider also the likelihood of breakage and the resultant damage to your wallet and your temper.
There’s also the aesthetics to consider. If you’ve just spent a not inconsiderable amount of money on a high-quality fizz, or you are at some grand occasion, it seems only logical to do justice with some appropriately elegant glassware. You might as well get every ounce of pleasure from your bottle of bubbly.
Here are the findings from my Breaking Glass experiment, in order of increasing excellence.
1. Champagne Coupe
A wide and flat saucer-shaped glass with a short stem. An apocryphal story has it that the design of this glass was modelled on the breasts of Marie Antoinette. That seems decidedly odd to me given the resultant shape, but I digress. It’s hard to hold at the stem, and holding the body warms the fizz up. Drinking from it encourages spillage, hardly a good look. The bubbles can’t make long beaded streams either; the mousse dissipates instantly; you can’t swirl without throwing the contents everywhere, and there’s precious little nose. The wine is lifeless in a few minutes because there’s an enormous surface area to volume. This shape seems to be making a comeback in some circles but it’s good only for Trifle or lovers of kitsch. Frankly, better drinking is achieved with a hotel tooth mug. Utterly useless. 1/10
2. Ornate Champagne Flute
An elongated V-shape, flaring outward at the top, gold rimmed, made of cut crystal. The crystal cut-marks impeded visibility. The outward flare dissipated the nose. The gold rim got in the way, and sipping from it was unpleasant. The wine flattened almost as quickly as with the Coupe and tasted decidedly dull. They do however look nice in the cupboard, so my advice is to lock them away in there. Uninspiring. 3/10
3. Plastic Champagne Flute
Bought cheaply from Costco in bulk. Being polycarbonate a slight opacity spoilt the colour, but at least the bubbles could be seen. It kept a decent mouse and was the first “glass” to show signs of retaining the nose. Able to swirl carefully, without accidents. The plastic gives a nasty downmarket feel, and the thick-rim isn’t pleasant either. Best to use when outside, where the unbreakable qualities would be a real advantage, especially in the dark. Adequate for picnics and BBQ’s. 3.5/10
4. ISO tasting glass
The ISO Tasting Glass is the standard made for still wines, but it’s a bit limited with fizz. It has a stem, and the bowl is wider at the bottom than the top, which allows swirling and nosing. But it’s just not tall or big enough to form good beaded bubble streams. Not especially elegant either. A significant improvement can be had by scratching the inside of the glass at the bottom of the stem with a steel nail. Roughening up in this way forms a nucleation point. The bubbles gather there and then stream up the middle of the glass, which improves the visuals no end. A bit of anorak’s approach, but ISO’s are cheap enough for experiments. 5/10, or 6/10 with the steel nail treatment.
5. Riedel Vinum Champagne Flute
Expectations were high for the Riedel glass. Riedel was perhaps the first to make different shapes of glasses dedicated to different wines or grape varieties, and many of them are excellent, if expensive and fragile. This mid-range Champagne glass misfires badly. It’s long, thin and transparent and has plenty of visual elegance, but the glass has no taper, so there is less intensity on the nose. There’s no nucleation point to focus the bubble streams either. They are unstable when stood down. Disappointing given Riedel’s reputation, never mind the extra cost involved and I find through everyday experience that Riedel glasses are overly fragile and easily broken. Riedel makes better Champagne glasses than this one, but at considerable extra cost. 6.5/10.
7. Moët Champagne Tulip
Bought directly from Moët et Chandon in Épernay. In regular use, these are lovely clear crystal glasses, fit for any occasion, with a discreet Moët logo etched into the bowl. Long and tapering in at the rim, a little broader at the base for careful swirling and it has that central nucleation point built in. Now the contents are transformed, there’s a good mousse, powerful nose, dancing beaded bubble streams and more finesse. The wine seemed to last longer on the palate, and they look the part too. Still lively 30 minutes after the initial pour. Trust Moët. Excellent. 8.5/10
8. Chef & Sommelier Open Up Arabesque glass, Kwarx Crystal
Chef & Sommelier have followed Riedel into the dedicated wine glass market. They use a hardened crystal material called Kwarx, which they claim makes them far more robust. Good looking too, with a wide angular bowl and a pronounced inward taper. There is a swirling design cut around the bowl, but this looks particularly stylish and doesn’t get in the way. The shape aids swirling and nosing and adds stability when standing. Pity there’s no nucleation point to enhance the bubble streams and I declined to try the steel nail treatment given the expense. Still plenty of effervescence after thirty minutes. In my experience, these glasses can certainly stand up to fairly rough handling yet look the part and still deliver on the tasting experience. 8.5/10
9. Bayel Crystal Champagne Tulipe
Bayel made this glass at their glassworks in the Aube region of Champagne. They look totally elegant. Tall and thin, (but not so tall as to be unstable) with a gentle inward curve at the top and wider at the base. The discreet decoration is limited to the stem, and there is a nucleation point. This glass gave the best bubble streams, and the bubbles appeared smaller and more delicate than with the Moët glass. With excellent transparency, it was easy to see the colour. Swirling brought the most pronounced nose; the palate seemed similar to the Moët and the Kwarx glass. Pretty robust too, as I found when the one I dropped survived intact. 9/10
Clearly, (pardon the pun), stemware matters, yet the perfect fizz glass that covers all the bases is yet to be made. The choice, if you have one, is a compromise between taste (in both flavour and propriety), cost, looks, quality and ease of breakage.
Frankly, I’ll drink fizz out of a toothmug if necessary, as many a hotel room can attest. Just like that saying from photography about cameras, the best fizz glasses are the ones you have with you. Good fizz glasses do make a difference but whatever you use, enjoy!
Oh, and I recommend the Breaking Glass experiment as a harmless way of brightening up a rainy Sunday afternoon and expressing your inner nerd. Better than clearing the garage out.
My particular thanks to Brandon Hilder for permission to reproduce his photo called “alcohol abuse” for this Breaking Glass article. Check his photography out on Flickr
Breaking Glass. Breaking Glass. Breaking Glass.