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Which glass is best for bubbly?

Flute beats the dusty coupe, according to a new study. But if you ask me, bubbly is best quaffed from an entirely different glass

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

Now we really know. Bubbles last longer in a flute, the tall, skinny drinking glass that's become the standard in Champagne service. It's a scientific fact.

You can now earn some spring garage-sale money from those dusty coupes, the precariously shallow, wide-mouthed goblets responsible for no end of dry-cleaning bills and last seen containing wine when "Champagne" in Canada meant a two-word brand ending in Bambino, Duck or President.

If you think you always knew bubbles lasted longer in a flute, with due respect, you didn't. You were just guessing.

In what they tout as the "first analytical proof" of its kind, researchers in France meticulously studied froth-loss rates from both types of glasses.Their findings, to be reported later this month in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, support the almost universally held view that a wider opening and shallower bowl make for a flatter sip.

Led by Gérard Liger-Belair, a professor of physical sciences at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne, the researchers measured the cumulative mass loss of carbon dioxide - the bubbles in sparkling wine - 10 minutes after pouring. That's the window during which a drinker is typically expected to down a standard 100-millilitre pour.

I am talking serious science here. The measurements involved, among other things, a technology called laser tomography and lots of equations with more Greek letters than a menu on Toronto's Danforth Avenue. The team even repeated the measurements six times for each glass, using fresh bottles, to average out potential inconsistencies in pouring.

I can hear the scoffing: Isn't it all superfluous, you ask, like spending research dollars to prove Don Cherry is more effervescent than Don Newman? After all, there's obviously more surface area in the coupe for the carbon to escape.

But it turns out - frankly, as I strongly suspected - that Champagne fluid dynamics are not so straightforward. While the coupe lost carbon dioxide faster initially, after three minutes the tendency reversed. The glasses basically did a tortoise-and-hare routine. In the end, the flip-flop still was insufficient to give the coupe the edge.

I'm kind of sad to be reporting this, to be honest. It sounds like the coup de grâce for the coupe, a venerable design that dates back to pre-revolutionary France and is invariably reputed to be modelled after one of Marie Antoinette's breasts. (Which raises the question: What part of whose anatomy inspired the flute?) Against hope, I wondered if the coupe might be in for a resurgence when, last December, it got a nostalgic nod from Champagne house Dom Pérignon, which unveiled a Karl Lagerfeld-designed bowl actually based on one of Claudia Schiffer's you-know-whats.

Freudian considerations aside, what I love about the coupe has nothing to do with breasts. It concerns personal style. The coupe asks something of the drinker, namely posture and attention. It is to wine what the V-shaped martini glass is to cocktails, forcing the drinker to extend an elbow and strike a pose rather than vulgarly pour fluid down the hatch. It summons your inner Humphrey or Ingrid (assuming you've seen Casablanca). The flute? It's just a highball glass on stilts.

Besides, as Prof. Liger-Belair also discovered, much of the dissolved carbon dioxide is lost to the initial turbulence of pouring. "If you want to decrease the loss of CO{-2} during serving, the best way is to serve it beer-like," he told me, meaning into a tilted glass to reduce sloshing. "But my feeling is that people do not do it that way in a restaurant to clearly differentiate the Champagne pouring from beer pouring." There you have it, waiters who treat a $5 Bud with more respect than your $20 glass of Moët.

Another problem with the flute? Bubbles at the surface are much larger because they've had more distance to travel vertically and thus more time to grow in size, notes Prof. Liger-Belair, who also is the author of a nice little 2004 book called Uncorked: The Science of Champagne, which has been out of print but is about to be republished. Part of the appeal of fine French Champagne compared with relatively inexpensive sparkling wines such as Prosecco from Italy is the pinpoint bubbles size, which creates a more delicate froth in the mouth. "So, in a way, the coupe is better as concerns the bubble size, since the consumer prefers fine bubbles," Prof. Liger-Belair says.

But in the end, to my taste, neither design is ideal. If you want to maximize the flavour and aroma of a fine bubbly, consider one of those balloon-like pinot noir glasses, the kind pioneered by the Riedel company of Austria, with a bowl the size of a grapefruit. A standard pour will bring the fluid level to about the widest point of the bowl, about the diameter of a coupe. When you tilt, you're sipping fine, coupe-sized bubbles. And whereas the aroma is lost in the case of a short-sided coupe, it's contained and focused by the curved sides of the pinot glass.

I was glad to learn recently that I'm not alone in my preference. Maximilian Riedel, an 11th-generation member of the crystal family, told me in Toronto the other week that his favourite glass for expensive, vintage Champagne is his new XL Pinot Noir glass (not cheap, at about $40 a stem).

Mr. Riedel has two solid reasons for the preference. First, aroma is generally believed to account for 70 per cent of wine's pleasure. Second, most bona fide French Champagnes and many other sparkling wines contain at least some pinot noir (typically in combination with chardonnay). Delicate aromas, such as the fresh berries and flowers evoked by good pinot noir, are best appreciated with a wide bowl to amplify and concentrate the smells.

Another advantage of the pinot glass? It's almost spill-proof.

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