Should 2016 mark the death of the Champagne flute? Sommeliers and wine experts are forsaking the flute in favour of glasses that better show off their fizz. Anne Krebiehl MW explains why you should invest in your glassware this year...


Nothing spells celebration like flutes of fizz; yet I haven’t touched mine in years. I haven’t foresworn festivities or effervescent drinks – but like so many in the business I have been drinking my Champagne and sparkling wines from white wine glasses.

This way I can gorge on the lovely aroma and taste, and fully appreciate what makes those bubbles such a joy to drink.

Experts speak out against flutes

Neither am I alone in shunning the flute. Maximilian Riedel, CEO of esteemed glass maker Riedel Crystal, previously told that his goal was to make Champagne flutes ‘obsolete’.

Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, cellarmaster at Champagne Louis Roederer, said: ‘Our Champagne style needs aeration to fully demonstrate its potential, so we often use white wine glasses. Some 25 years ago we even developed our own tulip glasses, which were larger than the flute.’

Hugh Davies, CEO and winemaker at Schramsberg Vineyards, one of California’s foremost sparkling wine producers, agrees: ‘In making our sparkling wines we envisage a finished product that offers an extraordinary aroma, palate and visual impression.

‘While the classic, narrow flute is commonly used and offers a beautiful display of effervescence, it can inhibit our ability to explore the depth of aroma and flavour in that wine.’

Why did flutes become popular?

Flutes are popular because they showcase tiny, rising bubbles perfectly – the enduring and visualised appeal of sparkling wine’s power to refresh. Many flutes even have a discreet nucleation point etched into their inner base to create a steady, vertical stream of fizz.

The flute also has other advantages: it preserves the effervescence that so easily dissipates in coupes and saucers. It is also much harder to spill your precious bubbles in a flute, while its serving size is ideal for parties. However, the shape doesn’t do justice to fine fizz.

While Champagne houses used either own-devised tulips or white wine glasses, it took a sommelier to lift the idea from the winery cellar into consumers’ hands.

Philippe Jamesse, head sommelier at Les Crayères in Reims, is outspoken: ‘I’ve always hated the flute. At home I always tasted in wine glasses.’ He started at the Champenois restaurant in 2000 and was ‘embarrassed’ to serve Champagne in flutes. ‘I knew we could do much better. When the chef of a Michelin starred restaurant produces complex cooking, it’s unacceptable not to show the real potential of the Champagne served there. I started looking but could not find the glass I wanted.’

The perfect glass?

He took his idea to local glass manufacturer Lehmann and together they created an elongated glass, rounded in the middle and tapering towards the top. At its widest point, their Grand Champagne glass measures 88mm, and even the most modest of the series, the Initial, measures 72mm.

Jamesse discovered later, together with Gérard Liger-Belair, a physicist at the University of Reims, that ‘the spherical shape of the glass, which also encourages vertical movement, respects the role of the mousse’.

Each bubble carries aroma to the surface. In his glasses this is a ‘progressive extension along the curve of the glass which favours first a gradual then a stretched ascent, allowing each bubble to burst at the widest point to free its flavours and express aromatic subtlety’.

The greater surface allows more bubbles to burst simultaneously while their aromas are captured within the tapering top. ‘We introduced the glass in the restaurant in 2008,’ Jamesse recounts. ‘Initially diners were a little shocked, but once they tasted from it they realised the difference.’

Champagne flutes, wine glasses

Left to right: Jamesse Grand Champagne glass; Riedel Veritas Champagne Wine glass; Zalto Dank’Art Universal glass


The glasses are popular: ‘We have used them for the past three years at Ruinart,’ says chef de cave Frédéric Panaïotis. At Roederer, they have even replaced the house’s owndevised tulip-glasses for all tasting, blending and entertaining. Concurrently, others had similar ideas. Piper-Heidsieck, Moët & Chandon and Krug, for instance, collaborated with Austrian glass manufacturer Riedel to create bespoke glasses tailored to specific wines. Krug’s Joseph glass, named after the house’s founder, was ‘created to enhance every aspect of the sensorial Krug experience’, according to cellarmaster Eric Lebel.

Do different sparkling wines taste better in different glasses?

Lécaillon believes that ‘each vintage requires a specific glass to give its best, but I favour the Jamesse Grand Champagne for wines based on elegance, purity and minerality like our non-vintage, blanc de blancs and Cristal. For more intense and powerful wines like rosé, blanc de noirs or vintages, I would go for Jamesse’s white wine glass.’

However Panaïotis believes non-vintage versus vintage ‘is a more important distinction than white versus rosé’. He says, ‘I like to use a slightly larger glass for Dom Ruinart Rosé – for mature vintages, 1990 and older, I even recommend Pinot Noir-type glasses.’

Veuve Clicquot’s cellarmaster Dominique Demarville echoes this: ‘To give our wine the best opportunity to shine, we devised a glass combining Jamesse’s spherical flute and his red wine glass.’

Gradual shift

Riedel, like other glass manufacturers, has also developed its own sparkling-specific glass within its Veritas series launched in May 2015.

CEO Maximilian Riedel tellingly calls the new glass, also with a diameter of 85mm at its widest point, a ‘Champagne wine glass’.

Nonetheless, Riedel continues to sell flutes in its range, despite received wisdom and the CEO’s own dictum. ‘We produce Champagne flutes as there is a commercial demand for them, especially from hotels and restaurants,’ explains Riedel UK’s managing director Steve McGraw. ‘However, our suggestion for sparkling wine would always be for the wine-glass shape.’

The influence can be felt across Europe. Jenny van Lieshout of Spanish prestige Cava house Gramona says: ‘We focus on long-aged Cava. To enjoy Gramona’s wide spectrum of aromas fully, we suggest the use of white wine glasses instead of flutes. In our tasting room we use Riedel Chianti glasses.’

Italy’s foremost traditional-method winemakers agree. Matteo Lunelli, president of Cantine Ferrari Trento, says: ‘I don’t think that traditional narrow flutes can deliver the perfume and complexity of a Trento DOC sparkling wine. I prefer large, tulip-shaped glasses, especially for vintage or reserve wines tasted with food. Flutes are fine for parties and toasting, but serving Ferrari Perlé in a large tulip-shaped glass immediately changes the experience.’

Restaurants ahead of the curve

Enlightened restaurants have already caught on to the new trend. Tobias Brauweiler MS, head sommelier at London’s Hakkasan Hanway Place, says wider flutes that ‘release more aroma’ are used throughout the Hakkasan group’s 11 restaurants. ‘Offering a different type of glass not only surprises the customer but enhances their experience.’

At Medlar in London, head sommelier Clément Robert MS uses ‘a modern type of flute made by Zalto’, but prefers Zalto’s Denk’Art-Universal for vintage or richer styles. ‘It gives more aeration and allows you to enjoy the wine side of Champagne much better.’

The trend is not confined to Europe. Jordan Nova, restaurant director at wine-focused 1313 Main in Napa, California, agrees: ‘While the majority of guests are used to flutes, we have found that winemakers and savvy guests have begun requesting white wine glasses for Champagne.’ So next time you pop a cork, celebrate the wine as much as the occasion – in a proper glass.

Anne Krebiehl MW is a wine writer, educator, consultant and judge.

  • No I must admit I didn’t – I will pretend they listened to me!!!!

  • Did you read article all the way to end? Reidel just released a new glass.

  • iByron

    Why on earth would anyone be holding a glass of Champagne long enough for the bubbles to dissipate?

  • Prom000

    agreed. especially with older ones. 15 C is quit alright.
    Also open it a few Hours before and close it again. aged champagne changes quit a bit over the course of it.

  • Prom000

    will try that.

  • Prom000

    best way to find out: take all the glasses you have and try the champagne out of it.
    with that being said with the cheap ones the differents between flutes and white wine isnt that big but once you go better the story is very very different.

  • Prom000

    depends on the occcation!

  • Prom000

    trink the cheap stuff from flutes and us white wine or even burgundy(for pinot heavy ones) glases for the good stuff?

  • Jean Pierre LAGNEAU

    As designer of the Authentis series for the German glass manufacturer Spiegelau (15 years ago), I can understand all these comments concerning the size, the shape, the comfort of champagne glasses. I designed many different glasses and I could experience the differences by myself in may opportunities. I do agree I feel far more comfortable with a larger shape. Nevertheless I could recently discover the shape doesn’t make the job alone. I can notice tasters are not satisfied with a lonely shape. They try to figure out the reason why, with strange arguments, often deprived of common sense. I used to think myself in the same way, considering the age of the wine, the region it comes from, or other variances.

    But I never had (until recently) the idea of taking into account the VITALITY of the wine itself. As I discovered the different glasses had the ability of increasing or weakening the wine’s vitality (after measuring them, using quantum instruments) I started to develop a special shape we called ULTIMA (by Royal Glass) which has the capacity of bringing the wine to its maximum potential vitality. The great surprise was to discover the wine appeared totally coherent when its vitality was at its maximum. The taster do no longer experience then the famous 3 phases (attaque, milieu de bouche, finale – I don’t know the proper terms in English, sorry) that are the roots of the many misunderstandings between tasters whith different points of view regarding the wine’s architecture! With the ULTIMA glass, every taster gets stable, coherent and consistent sensations and the polemic perception differences between glasses disappear for the benefit of the wine.

    Among the different glasses on the market, I could measured both the Zalto and the Jamesse are extremely negative (from the biodynamic point of view). This makes them very analytic but it turns the global sensorial appreciation almost impossible.
    It opens the aromatic palette very widely. It provides many sensations but the taster can never check they are real or not through the global appreciation. It builds a kind of “spread out” perspective of the wine.

    On the other side, you have the Royal Glass ULTIMA, which works in such a way the taster can check his appreciation from the beginning the the end (and after!) of the tasting sequence. I consider it simply tells the truth and al the truth on the wine.

    In between, the Riedel and all the other brands keep a certain confusion. They look good but do never convince me, because they want to “change” the wine toward the way the wine “should taste like”. It makes me feel manipulated…

    Together with the vitality discovering, I would like to add the ULTIMA glass can be used with success for any wine of any color, including champagne. As reference, the DRC domaine bought them for their tastings, because they allow to clearly distinguish the taste differences between the many Grand Crus they produce.

  • Elizabeth Schneider

    Thanks for the article, Deborah. Although I’m totally open to the idea that glassware makes a difference in aroma, the article doesn’t go into much detail about the effect of glassware on the study, except to say that a narrower glass (the wine glass) emphasized the ring phenomenon more than the martini or straight glass. This could be extrapolated to flutes — one could argue they concentrate the aromas further. It seems like you’re familiar with the study and this article only really shows the effect of temperature. Is there another, more conclusive article on this study? I’d love to know more!

  • Marian – – I agree with Kim Champagne is for that special moment – if we are not getting the best of Champagne in a flute someone needs to design a glass which is different, classy and shows off the bouquet etc. Reidel where are you!!

  • Albert Cilia-Vincenti

    Nobody has mentioned the temperature of the Champagne. Ok, the conventional wisdom is to err on too cool rather than too warm with any wine, but ice-cold Champagne may have no nose at all in whatever shaped glass – let it warm to room temperature and the bouquet and flavours come out – if you don’t wait for that, you might miss all the gusto you’ve paid for.

  • Deborah Parker Wong

    Actually, if you look at the way aroma molecules volatilize from a wine glass, see the study here, the science does not support your statements. The narrower the opening the more higher alcohols you’re going to smell and those are not particularly delicate aromas.

  • Antoine Bisset

    I tend to think that drinking champagne out of ladies slippers is the best option. It gives a sense of occasion and sets a happy mood. Is that not the reason we drink champagne?

  • Common sense, horses for courses, nothing really new.

  • Airwine

    Depends on the wine….Cava and prosecco vs. champagne? Time for a taste off!

  • Elizabeth Schneider

    An interesting take but I think you need to consider the type of Champagne before choosing the glass. My opinion is that for fruitier, richer Champagnes, you probably do need a bigger glass. But for most run of the mill Champagne (non-vintage) and even for very delicate, softer styles flutes work because they preserve the bead and the delicate aromas (similar to why you use smaller, tapered glasses for Riesling — to preserve the aroma).

  • Kim

    It may seem silly but, for me, from a young age my experience of champagne flutes was them being used to denote something a little more special – the toast at a wedding, the apéritif before Christmas dinner, etc. As a result, the difference in glass supported that, an unusual shape not normally seen.

    This doesn’t mean that I couldn’t be persuaded away (and I probably will be at some point!), I understand that wines and champagnes should always be served in the best way to showcase their attributes. But at the same time flutes will always hold a special place in my heart and I would feel a small amount of disappointment if they disappeared completely…