Against Flûtes

Whenever I hear that champagne coupes were “once used to serve champagne”, it makes my face twitch like Herbert Lom in the Pink Panther movies. The idea that the coupe has been replaced by the flute is wrong. Not factually wrong. But morally wrong. Stating the case for this presents a good opportunity to examine first principles. What, after all, is drinking for? What is it about?

Champagne is a beverage in motion. It makes you feel lively going down your gullet. It is lively. Champagne is not intended for reverential sipping. It’s not scotch. It’s not port sherry. It’s not even vodka. It’s barely even wine. It’s a type of wine that explodes and refuses to let you sit down. Can you remember the last time you drank champagne sitting in a chair? Dress up. Talk to people. Smile. Wake up. You’re going to feel terrible tomorrow, but this is fun, right now.

Champagne is made for libidinous drinking. Appropriate uses for champagne other than drinking it are 1) smashing against the sides of ships and 2) spraying all over victory platforms at speedcar races. You’ll notice that they don’t waste “sparkling wine” at those events. No, they waste the expensive stuff. What would it say about their attitude towards celebration if they balked at cost? Your ship deserves its doomed fate on the sea floor, the final resting place of anyone unlucky enough to sail upon it, if you opt for anything other than champagne. Champagne is a drink of celebration.

A good champagne, obviously, is produced by skilled craftspeople who have bottled a product that is ready to be evaluated by the toughest critic, using the driest, most rigorous means of determining excellence. That’s their job. Your job is to drink the stuff in the spirit in which champagne is meant to be drunk, which is fast and without a thought for tomorrow.

The idea of the flute being ideal for “nucleation” and preserving the precious little bubbles ought to make one sick. The problem with drinking champagne from a coupe has nothing to do with the preservation of bubbles. Bubbles, by their nature, are ephemeral. They’re supposed to rise to the surface and die, and tickle your nose in the death process. The solution to the problem of hanging on to bubbles is not to figure out a way to make them last. It is to drink the bubbles down. The point of drinking champagne is to embrace that ephemerality. Nothing lasts forever. Let’s drink to it.

They say that the champagne coupe was designed from an imprint of Marie Antoinette’s breast. They’re wrong, but it’s a good thing to wish for, isn’t it? The coupe was actually designed in England circa 1663. The Marie Antoinette factoid likely stems from a custom-built milk bowl called a jatte téton (breast bowl) purchased for her by her husband Louis XVI. Shaped like a breast with a small nipple at the bottom (and supported by the heads of three goats), this bowl is reputed to be shaped from her majesty’s udder, thus at least placing the misleading myth of the coupe’s origin into the ballpark of factitude.

The flute, on the other hand appears to be shaped from the penis of Iron Man. Don’t drink from it.

So we come back to the why of drinking. We drink for all kinds of reasons: to take the edge off, to even out the day, to argue myth into reality, to forget, etc. The story about the coupe being shaped like Marie Antoinette’s breast? Have a drink. It’s not true. But you kind of want it to be true. Have another drink. It’s getting truer and truer.

Champagne, more than any other drink, is meant to highlight life’s elusive joys by putting the ephemeral in a glass. It reminds you to enjoy it. Hurry up and drink.


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Marcel Duchamp photographed by Eric Sutherland at Walker Art Center, October 1965