Friday, August 02, 2013

Wine Glasses and Champagne

Warning: I am about to write about an expensive wine glass, and I will suggest to you that it is the best of its type, and worth the money. And furthermore, that if you pay good money for good wine, you should buy this glass if you have not already.

Why the warning? A lot of folks think that wine glasses don't matter, and that appreciating good glasses is snobbery or snake medicine. These people are wrong - there's no other way to say it. It's not entirely their fault, though. There is an unfortunate snobby culture that has been part of the modern history of wine appreciation and people might mistake the idea that some glasses are better than others with the false notion that you must use a certain glass to drink wine correctly. This is obviously not true. We have all had memorable experiences drinking wine out of bad wine glasses. It is not necessary to have the best glasses in order to enjoy a wine.

That said, some glasses really are better than others. A good Burgundy glass, for example, allows a good Burgundy wine to show more of what makes it a good Burgundy wine. If you drink a wine out of different glasses, the wine will show best in one of those glasses - there is a difference. And I'm not suggesting this in a snobby way - there is no "right" way to drink wine, and you should do whatever makes you happy. But there is something to this, this glassware thing. If you are someone who will spend $75 on a bottle of Champagne, for example, you might consider experimenting with different glasses. You might find that the wines you care about actually show better, given certain glasses.

There are few instances in which I feel that I know which glasses are best. Here is one instance: Champagne shows best out of Riedel Sommelier Series Vintage Champagne glasses. In the above photo the Riedel Champagne glass is on the left. It is a flute, basically, and this is not the fashionable way to drink Champagne these days. People like to drink Champagne from wider bottomed glasses like the Zalto (the middle glass in the above photo), or even from a Burgundy bowl. To me, the flute is the riskiest way to drink Champagne. Bad flutes (which to me are most flutes) restrict the aromas and flavors. But this is no ordinary flute. It is wider everywhere, and widens even more above the glass's halfway point. I cannot say that I understand the science here, but I appreciate the results.

This is not my discovery, by the way, Peter Liem first told me about this. The photo above was taken at his house in December as we drank 2002 René Geoffroy Cuveé Volupté out of three different glasses. I went in with an open mind and there was no mistaking it. The aromas were more focused in the Riedel glass and yet still expansive and complex, and it just moved onto the palate better, feeling more balanced. I had tried drinking Champagne out of this glass before, but after this experiment I literally refused to open a bottle until I bought a set of these glasses for myself. This, my friends, is an expensive proposition - they are about $75 a stem. But I own some decent Champagne, and the value this glass adds to the experience of drinking Champagne makes the glass worth more than its dollar value.

The first Champagne I drank from my new glasses was the 2008 Marie-Noëlle Ledru Rosé de Saignée. It's not a wine that emphasizes fruit, instead feeling very mineral and earthy. In the Riedel glass the wine's subtle fruit flavors mingled with the more intense minerality, and the wine showed perfect balance.

Since then I've used these glasses quite a few times and always with great results. It makes sense to me that wines based on Chardonnay would show beautifully from this glass. I've tried several times now and the pinnacle for me was this:

The 2002 Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Les Chétillons is a stunning wine, and in this glass the aromas were positively regal and flowing. Incisive chalk, green tea, and floral aromas, just beautiful and complex aromatically, and very finely detailed on the palate, which builds in complexity through the finish. Amazing wine, and although I did no empirical testing, it's hard to imagine a wine glass that would be a better medium through which to experience this Champagne. 

What about Champagne made from red grapes - would a Pinot Noir based Champagne also show as well? From what I've seen, the answer is emphatically yes. It's not about displaying the fruitiness of one kind of grape. What makes this glass special is the way it amplifies detail of aroma and flavor while facilitating balance, and this is not grape-specific.

Not long ago a few friends and I cracked a bottle of 2008 Marie-Noëlle Ledru Blanc de Noirs Cuvée Goulté, you know, just to see where it is. Although young and tightly wound, in this glass the wine's bright and energetic fruit shows through brilliantly, as does the vibrantly chalky floor on which everything rests. The next day I poured a small bit into a Burgundy bowl and a Zalto universal and in both cases, the aromas were more diffuse and the overall experience less pleasing.

The other night, on Peter's birthday, (and because of his generosity - he gave us this gift, on his birthday) I had the opportunity to drink a very special wine.

This is one of Selosse's single vineyard Champages. It comes from the village of Aÿ, from a vineyard called La Côte Faron. Selosse began the mini-solera for this wine in 1994 - there are wines that are19 year old in the blend! Until recently this wine was called Contraste, but Selosse has been releasing a series of single vineyard wines in the past few years and this one is among them, its name now La Côte Faron. The wine is gorgeous and there are many fascinating things about it. One thing I was conscious of as we drank it (over 4 hours) was glassware. We drank it out of the Riedel glass. But this wine is made entirely of Pinot Noir, and is composed of wines from vintages 1994 - 2003 (the current release includes some 2004 I believe - this one was released a few years ago). Would the inherent complexity, the aromatic expansiveness be compromised in the flute-shaped glass?

No, as it turns out. I didn't try the wine from a Burgundy bowl, but drinking it out of the Riedel glass was enough. The wine, especially after a couple hours open, showed incredible breadth, complexity, and detail, but in this glass was also entirely chiseled in its focus.

Here is a wine that I love, but have yet to drink out of the Riedel glass. Éric Rodez Cuvée des Crayères is a wine that comes entirely from Ambonnay, but it is not a Blanc de Noirs. It is a blend of a little more than half Pinot Noir and the rest Chardonnay, and it is a blend of several vintages - in this case the base wine is 2008 and there are reserve wines from 2007 back to 2002 in there. In this way it is reminiscent of the Selosse wine - the wine has an intrinsic complexity due to the high proportion of reserve wines. Okay, it's not Selosse, but it's not trying to be. And it is $55 compared with the $400 you'd spend on La Côte Faron if you could locate a bottle in the US. I look forward to seeing what this wine is like in the Riedel glass - maybe some experimentation with other glasses is in order. 


Ben said...

Great post, and what great champagnes! You use the Zalto Universal for your comparison. For champagne, I imagine the Zalto White Wine glass ($57) might test better. These are the glasses I use, at least. According to Thomas Iversen at the Mad about Wine blog -- someone who's passionate about wine glasses -- the Zalto White Wine glass is the one Bérèche and Laherte have started using. (Iversen himself uses a Spiegelau Adina glass that I'm not sure is available in the U.S.) There was also a thoughtful post recently on Mad about Wine, commenting on the way that the Zalto glasses (of the same shape) can vary a surprising amount in weight.

Dan Diephouse said...

I have the Zalto White's, the Zalto champagnes, and the Riedel Sommelier's . I can't say that there's one I prefer over the other all the time. I do think that the above commenter is right about the Zalto White's showing a lot better than the universals. I would highly recommend investing in them, they're amazing, but I use the Champagne glasses quite a lot as well.

My experience so far has been that the right glass depends on how focused the flavors are. The broader wines - typically the ones with oak and pinot noir, tend to show better in the larger glasses, while the more focused ones - e.g. very mineral - show better in the flutes.

Also, speaking of the Spiegelau Adina, if anyone knows where to get those in the US let me know!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Mr. Brooklynguy,

I have been reading your blog almost since the start of your postings, and continue to appreciate it as much now as then.

I have a simple request.

Early postings of pictures would fill the screen and leave little doubt about many of the details of the wine, the food and the object of interest that you are sharing with us.

Lately, the photos are very small and can hardly be viewed. With apologies for the simple realty of aging, and a desire to continue to participate in your blog as a reader (and I hope none of my computer settings have changed), I am requesting that you see if you can return to the full screen display of all the wines (especially the Champagnes), food, etc shown in your pictures, if possible.

You may have your own limitations, and I will understand.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.


On a another matter, what is the Champagne world to do about the major label, bottling theft that occurred at Monsieur Selosse earlier this year? What will we do about the fraud that is certain to occur or certainly to be attempted?

Maybe your esteemed associate Mr. Liem has a comment.

Thanks Much !!

Rocktageous said...

You can click the images and poof!, they become large.

Thank you for this topic. I've been on the hunt for white wine glasses for a couple of months. Preferably ones that can handle the occasional champagne. There are tons of thoughtful opinions about Burgundy stems, but I have yet to find anything close for whites. So far none of the trustworthy commentary spares my wallet Riedel Sommelier or Zalto money. Any advice?

Anonymous said...

I'm going back to this older post to respond to the question of glasses. Never one to invest in expensive ones, this entry finally got me to buy the Zalto Universal, and I was amazed at the difference. This made a serious, serious difference....Thanks, BG, for this.

Emily said...

I was just writing about this on my own blog. I haven't tried a comparative tasting with champagne -- we're more about pinot in this house -- but I'll ask my sister, the bubbly fiend. I think that at the very least, for your favorite varietal, buy the write glasses.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Riedel has the perfect balance in weight and shape for enjoying a fine wine or champagne. I my self have three of the flutes and agree they are delightful and seem to enhance the aroma of my more delicate champagnes! But I have also noticed it can really have a lot to do with the temperature and the company I share a bottle with.