Monday, November 8, 2010

Making the Most of Your Bubbly

My friend and colleague Patricia Savoie recently wrote a cover story, on stemware for Champagne, for Sommelier Journal. In the article, she explores the various ways in which flutes, coupes, and traditional still-wine glasses affect the way in which Champagne is enjoyed and perceived.

She begins by noting that “Winemakers from several of Champagne’s top houses have moved away from the flute to develop or adopt alternative glassware they believe can show their wines to full advantage. They are supported by a small, but growing, cadre of sommeliers and wine directors who have discovered through personal experience that Champagne tastes better in a traditional still-wine glass than in a flute.”

This, of course, runs counter to what most consumers assume: That Champagne is a vessel for bubbles and celebrations first, and a wine second. But those of us who have experimented with tasting Champagne in a variety of stems are likely to agree that, thought he flute is the standard, it is not always the best vessel for great Champagne.

Rather than paraphrase Savoie here, you’re far better off clicking over to her excellent article and reading it yourself. On this blog, however, I though that it would be interesting to test what she discovered with a Champagne that I already know I love no matter what the glass: Ayala Brut Majeur, a top Champagne that more consumers will become familiar--and, I predict, fall in love--with in the next few years.

My notes are below, divided by what kind of glass I tasted it from.

Riedel Vinum Cuvee Prestige Champagne flute: Bready, toasty nose, with nervy acid providing backbone. Lots of autumn-evoking fruit on the nose, including persimmon and spiced golden raisins. It’s quite linear on the palate, with long, generous fruit, a vinous mid-palate, ginger and a touch of flowers on the finish, and a delicate texture. Bright and linear; seems to be holding something in reserve. More feminine despite its richness.

Riedel Vinum Chablis (Chardonnay) glass: Much more yeast and graphite on the nose that in the flute, and less-tightly-wound concentration. I prefer the nose, unexpectedly enough, from the flute than from this glass. On the palate, however, it’s a far bigger and more complex wine, with the minerality of the Chardonnay and the earthiness of the Pinot Noir coming through with real clarity. There’s more detailing to the constituent parts here, less fruit, and more terroir. Masculine.

Riedel Vinum Burgundy glass: A seriously mineral edge to the nose is softened up immediately by the round brioche and toast notes that were so apparent from the flute, as well as thoroughly accurate macadamia aromas. This glass brings the best parts of the other two into beautiful harmony, the persimmons and minerals intertwining easily, and mingling with added flavors of cardamom, dried apricot, and a passing flutter of white chocolate and almonds. Most food-friendly from this glass.

In the end, you cannot go wrong with a Champagne as well-crafted as Ayala Brut Majeur: Even from, say, a Dixie Cup it would show well. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider the glass you’re going to pour it into and enjoy it from. Great wine, after all, deserves the right vessel.


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