You Should Stop Washing Your Champagne Glasses, According to the French
What's the first thing you do when you retrieve your dusty Champagne flutes for a special occasion (read: New Year's Eve)? If you're like me, you give them a good wash. After all, they've been sitting a while, and who knows what airborne debris and pet hair has settled in them!
Well, do I have news for you. I recently capped off a couple of weeks in France with a day exploring the Champagne region. My husband and I hit the cellars and tasting room of Taittinger for a tour and tasting, and as an utter novice (although ardent fan) when it comes to Champagne and other wines, I had many questions. We were grilling the lovely woman behind the bar when she dropped this surprising tidbit.
"You shouldn't wash your Champagne coupes, you know," she said. (You have to read that in a delightful French accent).
I was flummoxed. Perhaps her English wasn't as perfect as it seemed, so I repeated her assertion. "You don't wash them?"
Non, she insisted. It seems the particles of dust we're in such a hurry to do away with are actually the secret ingredient to that lovely, festive effervescence. Look, she said, pointing to the stream of teeny bubbles making their way to the surface of my glass. They come from one spot, she pointed out, and indeed they did, presumably where a speck of dust was found.
I was mystified, and fascinated, and did a little reading after the trip. And sure enough, this BBC article confirmed this strange truth. The author spoke with a physicist at the University of Reims who studies the bubbles in Champagne (don't you just love France?) and got the dirt, so to speak.
Strictly speaking, there aren't actually bubbles in the wine until you open it, reducing the pressure and allowing the gas molecules to come together suddenly out of solution — more bubbles form as the Champagne makes contact with imperfections and speckles of dust on the interior of a Champagne glass.
Amazing! So I ran this revelation by a Master Sommelier here in my home of Louisville. Scott Harper has long answered my wine questions, and took time from work at his Cuvée Wine Table to chat with me. And I got a different story.
He in fact washes and sanitizes his glasses. Now to be fair, he does run a restaurant, so he has to follow health department guidelines that we may overlook at home. At his own house, he said, he does wash his glasses (just standard white wine glasses, by the way, no flutes for him), but he will often "season" them first — that is, give them a rinse with a lesser-quality wine, before pouring the bubbly, so that it's not so squeaky clean.
Do we chalk this up to a difference in French culture and American when it comes to expectations and definitions of what's clean? Harper reminded me that you'll often see just a communal hand towel in a public washroom in France, whereas we wouldn't dream of using someone else's dirty towel to dry our hands here.
Be that as it may, I like bubbly to be, well, bubbly. And if that means I get to save a couple minutes and get more quickly to the pop! and the sip, I think I'll hand wash my glasses when I'm done and stow them until next time, when I'll just give them a wipe with a clean, dry towel and move right to the toast.