I remember the first time I was asked to choose which type of glass I wanted for my sparkling wine. It was some years ago at Casa José, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Aranjuez, south of Madrid. I had ordered a Pinot Noir champagne and a still wine glass was suggested by the sommelier. Isn’t it wonderful when wine is considered as important as the food?, I thought and asked if I could compare the two glasses to tell the difference? The standard glass performed best: the aromas came through beautifully.
Sparkling wines had bespoke glasses long before other wines, but the shape has changed considerably over time. The wide, flat glass of the glamorous 1920s was outstripped by its opposite: the narrow, tall flute that preserves and enhances bubbles naturally.
Apart from retaining the carbonic, flutes can be held by the stem, so your hands don’t heat up a wine which is usually served very cold. It is also less likely that you spill your fizz. And, at parties, more glasses can be carried on one tray.
Over recent years, flutes have been given wider bowl shapes to enhance aromas, but the trend is to replace them with standard wine glasses.
“Flutes can work well with young Cavas but nowadays people are drinking more and mored aged bubbly. These wines are really complex and need a larger surface area in order to fully express their aromas and flavours,” says Jordi Segura, who has been selling Riedel glasses in Spain for more than 20 years through distribution company Euroselecció.
The Cava Regulatory Board agrees. The book Momentos Cava published last year included a chapter written by Guillermo Cruz, sommelier at restaurant Mugaritz, in which he pointed out that flutes were not suitable for sparkling wines. “They are too elongated and fail to let wines express their full potential. Thus sparkling wines come straight into the mouth and cannot expand on the palate”. He suggests using flutes with wider bowls for young cavas and still wine glasses for long-aged cavas.
Spanish sparkling producers seem to be of the same opinion. At most professional tastings wines, are served on standard glasses. At a recent presentation in Madrid, prestige producer Recaredo presented their cava Tribut Segona Plenitud, aged for 20 years, in a Burgundy-shaped glass. All their cavas are labelled as Gran Reserva, so Recaredo avoid flutes as they are not suitable for long-aged sparkling wines.
Jordi Segura reports two simultaneous trends: a significant increase in the demand of sparkling-specific glasses and the fact that consumers at restaurants are getting used to have their fizz served in standard wine glasses. “We risk having a sudden surge in demand for wide glasses,” he notes, “but the important thing is knowing what type of glass is needed for different occasions.”
There is not a single dominant thinking in this respect. At Gramona, another top Cava producer, a technical and a hedonist approach live under the same roof.
As a trained oenologist, Jaume Gramona thinks bubbles are a crucial component of sparkling wines: “I like to see the steady stream of bubbles, the crown at the top, its texture (crunchy or creamy, depending on ageing times) and the way bubbles react when the get to the stomach. The best glass is one that creates a balance between all these features.”
In contrast, Jaume’s cousin Xavier Gramona, who looks after managing and sales, defines himself as a consumer of mature wines. He likes to enjoy them in wide white wine glass made of fine crystal. “The mousse might not be too visible, but I don’t mind sacrificing on visual appeal to get the maximum expression from the wine on my nose and palate,” he argues.
Although Jaume Gramona understands the reasons behind the use of larger glasses, his main point against them is the loss of pressure of “up to one atmosphere.” In his opinion, the wine is less exposed to oxygen in flutes, resulting in better temperature preservation. “Low temperatures maintain fragile bubbles for longer,” Jaume explains.
What do sommeliers think? Working closely with Guillermo Cruz at Mugaritz, Silvia García says that all sparkling wines cannot be handled in the same way. The right approach is to first figure out the style of the wine. “Sparkling wines with extended aging need a wider glass so you can stick your nose in to enjoy its complexity of aromas, but if it is too wide, bubbles will fade away quickly. Instead, a Pinot Noir sparkling wine with some oak will do fine in a wide glass. At Mugaritz we pay as mucha attention to glasses as we do to wine.”
The one-glass-for-all-wines approach works with the Riedel Vinum Riesling (around 22,45 € the piece in Spain), says Jordi Segura. This is the most popular model at professional tastings — its shape makes it highly versatile (see other options here).
Anyone looking for a single sparkling wine glass could go for the Riedel Performance Champagne (€22,45 the piece in Spain), recommends Segura. This is part of a new range featuring deep-ribbed bowls with a light optic impact aimed at increasing the inner surface area of the glass in contact with the wine to fully show its aromas.
Sparkling rosés are special, says Segura, so they need a specific glass like the Riedel Veritas Pinot Noir (€24,50 the piece in Spain).
At Recaredo, the choice is Zalto glasses. For them, the Universal model (€ 33.90 at Decántalo) work best for particularly long-aged Cavas like Reserva Particular and Turó d’en Mota. “We are fond of the Riedel Veritas Champagne (€24,50 the piece in Spain) for Serral del Vell and Zalto’s white glass model (€32.90 at Decántalo) for Terrers,” director Ton Mata says. Hand-blown Zaltos are extremely thin and must be among the lightest glassware on the market -everyone seems to remember the first time they held one in their hand.
The Zalto Universal also ranks high among Silvia García and Guillermo Cruz’s favourite sparkling glassware. A couple not only at Mugaritz but also in personal life, they also use them in their home together with the Riedel Vinum Riesling.
“If you are paying for a good sparkling wine, it’s worth having good glasses at home to enjoy it. Apart from the shape, a thin crystal is crucial so that you really feel the wine coming into your mouth,” Silvia points out.
When he dines at a restaurant, Jaume Gramona lets the sommeliers choose the glasses, but at home he likes to drink his fizz in fine crystal flutes with a wider bowl shape that narrows at the rim to get the full aromas.
The trend towards larger glasses for sparkling wines can justify the lack of specific glassware in front of your guests, but those who are really fond of bubbles should discover by themselves which glasses perform best with their favourite fizz.
DO YOU NEED TO SWIRLL YOUR FIZZ?
Carbonation makes sparkling wines particularly sensitive in terms of shipping, cellaring and pouring. Are you supposed to swirl your glass as you usually do with still wines?
Ton Mata from Recaredo says this is a personal choice but he told SWL how he likes to taste his wines: “Open the bottle and gently pour the wine into the glass to smell and taste it, but do not swirl it. This way you can check for any reductive notes in long-aged cavas and ensure that the CO² is balanced on your palate. I then swirl the glass gently to remove the original reduction and let the broad range of aromas come through. This should be a slow, brief, gentle move.”
Jaume Gramona agrees. He never swirls the glass before the first sniff and the first sip, otherwise all the effervescent nuances would be missed. At a second stage, “swirling helps to ‘undress’ the wine and to check for virtues or flaws,” he says. Effervescence adds extra complexity to sparkling wines: as bubbles rise, they drag the volatile components of the wine releasing the aromas. “The longer the ageing, the smaller, lighter and faster the bubble and the wider the aromatic range of the wine,” he explains.
For anyone willing to learn more about the complex world of bubbles, Jaume Gramona recommends the research of French physics professor who has devoted most of his career to the study of sparkling wines. Thanks to his work, it is known, for example, that 40% of carbonic is lost if the wine is served into a glass from an upright position compared to only 25% if the glass is tilted.
Sommeliers Guillermo Cruz and Silvia García also prefer a gentle swirl. A candidate to the demanding Master Sommelier qualification, Cruz told us that, on sparkling wine tasting exams, candidates must mention the “presence of bubbles” on the visual stage and describe the quality and texture of the effervescence on the palate. Applicants are also asked to assess whether the wines are made according to the traditional method, the tank method (second fermentation in vats) or with the injection method (adding carbon dioxide gas).