Let’s start with a sparkling wine primer. It begins like any other wine: Grapes are pressed and the juice is fermented. That’s how you make still—or bubble-free—wine. But for sparkling wine, hits of extra sugar and yeast are added during bottling, triggering a secondary fermentation inside the bottle. That added step produces all those effervescent bubbles of carbon dioxide. How much you enjoy a sparkling wine is all about how you experience those bubbles, and that’s where glassware makes a difference.
The right shape for the job has been a subject of debate for ages. The tall tulip-shaped flute came along in the early 18th century, not long after sparkling wine went from being a nuisance (secondary fermentation was discovered in France’s Champagne region when uneven storage conditions caused some bottles to explode) to a hot commodity.
The flute was favored because its straitjacket design showcases those upwardly mobile columns of bubbles. That may look nice, but the narrow opening at the top of the flute limits the use of the nose, key to our ability to taste.
The coupe, or saucer-shaped glass, also has been a mainstay of the sparkling wine scene for about as long, at various periods even displacing the flute in fashionable circles. Time has muddled the true origins of the glass, but know at least that urban legends about it being molded after the left breast of Marie Antoinette are quite untrue.
The coupe solved the nose problem, but it created new ones. The wide open bowl allows the bubbles to dissipate too quickly. Plus, the shallow bowls make it awfully hard to swirl your wine without sloshing it onto your shoes. And swirl—at least a little—you certainly want to do.
It turns out we’ve all been overthinking this. Sparkling wine is still a wine, and we know quite a lot about what shape of glass does the best job of making everything wine has to offer available to our senses.
The classic red or white wine glass—with its broad, stable foot and a bulbous-bottomed bowl—is just about perfect. The bowl allows the wine to be agitated and aerated with a motion of the wrist (swirling!), which in turn encourages the liberated aromas to crowd the rim, where they can be readily and fully appreciated. And the rim itself is roomy enough to allow the taster to put their nose right into the glass.
If there’s a drawback to this approach, it’s that you may be so enchanted by the fullness of the experience that you’ll swirl and swirl again, encouraging a too-quick release of CO2 and hastening the moment when the bubbles dissipate.
If you’re still doubting whether to give your flutes the heave-ho, know that the pros ditch them when tasting and judging sparkling wines. They know flutes are for orchestras, not fine wine.