“In victory we deserve champagne, in defeat, we need it.”Napoleon Bonaparte
From Winston Churchill to Napoleon Bonaparte to Mark Twain, everyone who left their mark in history seemed to have something to say about Champagne. Churchill used to drink so much Pol Roger that they named a cuve in his honour. Similarly with Napoleon Bonaparte, where MUMM champagne named the famous Cordon Rouge in his honour, as Napoleon used to wear a red General’s sash. Napoleon used to say: “In victory, we deserve champagne, in defeat, we need it”. While we know a lot about champagne, do we know enough about the history of champagne glasses?
Jean-François de Troy (1679–1752), Le Déjeuner d’Huîtres, 1734
But it wasn’t just European aristocrats that appreciated the taste of champagne; Veuve Clicquot was the first Champagne house to ship the hallowed drink through the blockade in 1811 to Imperial Russia. And as Madame de Pompadour once said, “Champagne is the only drink that leaves a woman still beautiful after drinking it.” As Louis XV’s royal mistress, she knew a thing or two about beauty, and also about Champagne: She was one of Claude Moët’s most loyal customers.
“Champagne is the only drink that leaves a woman still beautiful after drinking it.” Madame de Pompadour
Louis XV didn’t leave the Champagne drinking to Madame de Pompadour, though. It was the drink of kings in the 17th century; Louis XV’s private dining room had a painting of a post-hunt oyster lunch, complete with a Champagne action scene. It is believed that this is the first depiction of champagne in a painting. If you look closely at the head of the table, you can see a man who has just popped the cork – he’s still holding the knife used to cut the string that held it in place. Follow his gaze, and you can even see the cork in mid-air.
The Champagne glasses in Louis XV’s painting look remarkably like what we call a Champagne coupe – basically round bowls on stems. The so popular shape of yesteryear, it seems, was almost entirely abolished by restaurateurs of today. So how did the shape of a champagne cup change through years?
“Champagne is the one thing that gives me zest when I feel tired.” Brigitte Bardot
The History of Champagne Coupe
When it comes to the history and origin of champagne glass, the Champagne coupe’s usually begins with human anatomy. The glass is often thought to be modelled on a breast – but not just any breast: rumor has it that the shape was inspired by Marie Antoinette, or some even say Madame de Pompadour.
The idea of breast-shaped Champagne coupes has its share of modern iterations. In 2008, Karl Lagerfeld created a breast-inspired bowl for Dom Pérignon that was a tribute to Claudia Schiffer. And to celebrate her 25 years in the fashion industry, Kate Moss lent her left breast to be used as the model for a coupe commissioned by London’s 34 Restaurant. The A-cup was launched in Ivy restaurant at the champagne-fueled bash. Legend has it that the first champagne coupe that was made in the 18th century was modeled on Marie Antoinette’s left breast, but the truth is, of course, less poetic.
“Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right.” Mark Twain
The coupe shape was very common on aristocratic houses of Rococo and even before. We can see numerous references to similarly shaped drinking vessels on paintings of Baroque artists. So it is not to say that the classical champagne cup was invented for the purpose of drinking champagne – the crystal or metal ornamented cup was rather a more refined version of a drinking cup and a symbol of status and certain class in era when only rich and famous could afford glassware or crystal.
The coupe was fashionable in France from its introduction in the 1700s until the 1970s, and in the United States from the 1930s to the 1980s.
“Remember gentlemen, it’s not just France we are fighting for, it’s Champagne!” – Winston Churchill
The History of Champagne Flute
Somewhere after the mid-1950s, the Champagne flute began creeping onto the scene. Again, not to say that it was invented then, but the drinking habits were changing and the flute, according to many, prevents champagne from fizzling out ‘too quickly’. Compared to Luis XV, almost any rate will be too quickly. Back in the age of Rococo champagne was downed in the same manner as we down shots today – whole glass in one go.
“He who doesn’t risk never gets to drink Champagne.” An old Russian proverb.
The champagne flute was developed along with other wine stemware in the early 1700s as the preferred drinking vessel for wine shifted from metal and ceramic to glassware. In particular, the early version of the flute – the Jacobite glass – became common from the mid 17th century in the UK and was used among Scottish Jacobites to toast the king. In the years before 1645, any signs of Jacobite allegiance were suppressed. Jacobites had to meet and plot in secret. Because of this, a number of secret Jacobite symbols emerged, which revealed to those ‘in the know’ who was on their side. You can still get your hands on the original engraved Jacobites glass for an eye watering £1400 and toast with style.
“Before I was born my mother was in great agony of spirit and in a tragic situation. She could take no food except iced oysters and champagne. If people ask me when I began to dance, I reply, In my mother’s womb, probably as a result of the oysters and champagne, the food of Aphrodite.” Isadora Duncan
Initially, the flute was tall, conical, and slender. By the 20th century, however, the shape preferred by glassware purchasers had changed from a straight-sided glass to one which curved inward slightly near the lip.
“Champagne…it gives you the impression that every day is Sunday.” Marlena Dietrich
The bowl is designed to retain champagne’s signature carbonation by reducing the surface area at the opening of the bowl. According to champagne flute advocates, a smoother surface area in the glass will produce fewer bubbles in the glass and thus more bubble texture in the taster’s mouth. Flutes, with their deep bowl, allow for greater visual effect of bubbles rising through the liquid to the top. The flute also helps regulate and reduce the oxygen-to-wine ratio, which both enhances the aroma of the wine as well as the taste.
“Champagne should be cold, dry and hopefully, free.” Christian Pol Roger
As a result, by the ‘80s and ‘90s, there was hardly a coupe in sight and flutes had seemingly won the war between Champagne glasses. But there are many fans of the classical coupe today and the ’battles of cups’ continues.
“I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I am not.” Coco Chanel
Some Champagne sophisticates prefer more of a tulip-shaped wine glass, which does the double duty of keeping the bubbles alive longer and also allowing room for your nose to take in the aroma. Austrian glass maker Riedel even introduced a new teardrop-shaped Champagne glass — with a more generous bowl that then narrow towards the top.
In the 1960s, double-wall stemware was developed for champagnes as well as other beverages. The glass contains an inner and outer wall separated by a small gap filled with air. This gap slows the transfer of heat from the drinker’s hand to the champagne. The time will show if the new shape will stick.
“Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast? Doesn’t everyone?” Noel Coward
Luckily for coupe enthusiasts, the classic breast-shaped glass persists. It’s been making a comeback in the last few years, largely thanks to Scott Fitzgerald’s nostalgia. It is likely however, that in the 1920’s, the flute type glass was not less popular than the coupe.
Nonetheless, rumours have it that Veuve Cliquot will be expanding their merchandise with classical coupe glasses in the near future. And we wouldn’t be surprised to read another ‘PR’ story of champagne glasses modeled after someone’s breasts.
“I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it—unless I’m thirsty.” Lilly Bollinger