Drinks Business magazine hit the ground running in January with the news that after centuries of serving fizz in cups based on the left breast of Queen Marie Antoinette and latterly in narrow flutes, “the Champenois are starting to serve their sparklers in white wine glasses as the larger surface areas give more aromas, complexity and a creamier texture” according to stemware manufacturer Georg Riedel.
Although Marie’s embonpoint was abandoned precisely as the surface area was too large and the bubbly went flat too soon. “Flutes are too narrow and don’t allow the aroma and richness of the Champagne to shine as there isn’t enough air space,” Georg continued, noting that flutes are often mistakenly filled to the top, leaving the wine no room “to breathe” as enthusiastic waitrons seek to ensure another order.
That master of MCC, Nicky Krone from the House of Krone in Tulbagh, wishes Dolly Parton had been used as template, in which case refills would proceed at a more sedate pace. Georg’s comments come as no surprise as he has stemware to shift and flutes are far more robust than those signature sommelier balloon glasses bigger than your head that are his fragile flagship. Cui Bono? as they say in the classics – to whose benefit?
I fondly remember the halcyon days chosing bubbly for SA Airways and lunching with Georg who spoke a wonderful story of how SA speciality Pinotage needed its own glass with a special shape to unlock the full potential of our controversial national cultivar. Coleman Andrews was in the national cockpit and conspicuous consumption was the order of the day. Judges were flown business class and accommodated at Michelin three star temple of gastronomy Boyer les Crayeres in Reims (highlight: breakfast of truffled scrambled eggs in bed, served by French maid in Prada mini) while airline minders and facilitators flew first. O tempora, o mores!
Alas Georg failed to get sufficient producer orders to fulfil his dream and that particular gravy train failed to leave the station, despite the SAA wine consultant doubling as Riedel agent. So will Georg’s clarion call trigger a restock of stemware this time round?
Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger (PET, of the eponymous Champagne House) sounds a note of caution, focusing on the unique glass used for bubbly as a USP for Champagne. “But we have a specific glass… and Champagne is not a wine but a great symbol,” he told a gaggle of UK wine masters in London in December, noting “Champagne is not only a wine but a symbol of love and generosity and if we forget that we are dead.”
My favourite of the big volume grande marques is Veuve Clicquot and they’ve seized on Polo as marketing symbol for SA. I remember a polo day at the Inanda Club some years back where a very hairy Greek lounge singer had us in involuntary stitches with his cover versions of Sinatra songs. I do hope he’s flown down to Val de Vie for a reprise.
While marketing Champagne must be the cushiest berth in the industry, I’m surprised Veuve do not include Africa in their Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Awards which run in 17 countries. Surely SA is a bigger market than New Zealand and we’ve certainly some impressive candidates: Wendy Appelbaum, Wendy Ackerman, Wendy Luhabe and that’s only the Wendies!