When you try to catch bubbles in your hand, they burst. Every so often, you can find that delicate balance of keeping the fragile sphere intact for a millisecond … and then…pop! When drinking a sparkling wine, part of the fun is watching the bubbles catch the light, rise, and burst releasing the beautiful aroma. The idea of decanting a sparkler seems to be the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve by drinking it in the first place: the instant gratification of pop, fizz and sip. It’s a little like putting a hot dog on the end of a dog’s nose and making him wait; it delays the fun and you might end up with some drool on your floor.
But decanting might provide a practical way to get the most out of your sparklers. According to Cellarit.com, decanting sparkling wine, helps to soften and open up younger, non-vintage Champagnes. Quite often, your first glass ~ without decanting ~ may not be as compelling and rich. It may be served too chilled (limiting the aromatics) and may not have opened up enough on first pour to bring out the full flavors. Decanting may help to make your first glass as impressive as your last. For older vintages, many experts insist that decanting is simply not necessary; the wine, with all its depth, nuances and facets, will stand on its own. Only one pour is required.
But wait. Not just any decanter will do if you want to wrangle the bubbles. The lyre decanter is preferred since the pour is more gentle, allowing for the delicate release of the aromatics while preserving the mousse. The key is also in the actual pour into the decanter itself; too fast (rapid aeration) and you’ll quickly lose the effervescence. So be careful and take your time. Sparkling wines, especially Champagnes, are very delicate creations and need a little TLC before you enjoy them. Once decanted, Champagne should be consumed within thirty to sixty minutes to enjoy the conscious coupling of the effervescence and full flavor.
In the cover photo above, I am pouring in the worst way possible. Splashing around does not protect the sparkler but it made for a more interesting picture for me to shoot. I have learned my lesson and shall sin no more. My first resolution of the new year!
Flute, Coupe or … Chard?
As for the appropriate glass with which to serve, current arguments exist for and against a variety of shapes.
- The traditional coupe Champagne glass (rumored to be shaped like Marie Antoinette’s breast) may have the right idea in terms of a better surface area to enjoy the aromatics but because of the width at the top, the wine quickly loses effervescence.
- The flute is designed to keep the bubbles in tact and many have a small etching in the bottom to highlight the journey of the bubbles up to the top ~ it’s what gives the ‘necklacing’ effect that’s so pretty. But what you gain in beauteous bubbles, you lose in true appreciation of the wine essence; it’s difficult to get your nose into the flute to experience the subtle aromas.
- The classic Chardonnay or White wine glass, is gaining more appeal for experts who maintain that the larger shape, and delicate taper, provides more surface area for the fragrance of the Champagne to truly open and display its brilliance. But because there is a larger bowl and no unique etching (it’s not needed for non-sparkling wine) bubbles burst much more quickly. In other words, you get more steak, if you will, but not as much spectacular sizzle.
The choice is yours, ultimately, and there is a vast variety of glasses to suit whatever taste, budget and reason for drinking Champagne and sparkling wine.
I do not have a Lyre-shaped decanter at my home. At $600 a pop, that may be a purchase down the road, but I will try decanting my Champagne tonight, anyway. As any good student will tell you, the fun is in the experimenting. And like the puppy with the hot dog on his nose, I will wait patiently…and try not to drool on the floor.
Whether you decant your Champagne, drink it out of a Chardonnay glass, flute, shoe (yuck) or paper cup, I wish you all a safe, happy New Year’s Eve, and the very best in 2015!