How do you drink your Champagne (we're hoping it's from a glass!) -- is it a Champagne flute or a Champagne coupe? Nowadays it seems the flute has become the preferred drinking vessel for sparkling wines, but it wasn't always that way. Before the flute arrived on the scene, the coupe was the go-to glass for Champagne. This petite bowl or saucer-shaped glass has a rather sordid origin. But even with its past, we think it's a glass worth looking out for -- and if you don't own any, you should consider buying a set (see our slideshow below).
Legend has it that the coupe glass was molded from Marie Antoinette's left breast, and that she wanted her court to toast her health by drinking from glasses shaped like her bosom. However, the truth is the glass was actually invented long before the reign of the queen, in 1663 in England. It was one of the first, if not the first, glasses invented specifically for drinking Champagne. So there goes that myth. However, there's more to this tale.
History does show that in fact, Marie Antoinette had porcelain bowls molded from her breast. They were designed for drinking milk as part of her "Pleasure Dairy" where the queen and her ladies-in-waiting would dress up as milkmaids and frolic, milking and churning butter all day in her rustically designed hamlet at Versailles. Called jattes tetons, each footed bowl had a nipple at its nadir and was supported by three decorative goat heads (the four original bowls still exist in the Musée National de Céramique de Sèvres in Paris). At the time they were designed, the queen was very much into a back-to-nature philosophy. Her actions helped convince noblewomen breast-feed their babies instead of relying on wet nurses (that fact just makes the bowls seem even stranger!).
So, if we take this into account, it seems like someone must have confused the history of the Champagne coupe glass with the actuality of the milk bowls. But other women in history, including Madam du Pompadour, Madame du Barry, Empress Josephine (Napolean's wife), Diane de Poitiers, Helen of Troy and photographer Lee Miller have all been thought to have inspired breast-shaped glasses. (In 2008 Dom Perignon revealed a glass designed after model Claudia Schiffer's bosom.) So Marie Antoinette's was not the one and only bosom to be equated with the coupe glass, but no one knows for sure what shape actually inspired the inventor of the glass. Anyway it never was the right glass for sparkling wine -- the bubbles dissipate much too quickly with all that surface area leaving us with only the option of chugging or risking the Champagne going flat. But supposedly Champagne wasn't always as fizzy as it is now.
No matter who inspired the coupe glass, it's safe to say its infamy keeps it popular to this day. Especially in the 1930s prohibition-era and in the 1960s, the coupe glass reigned as the choice for sparkling wine even if its design wasn't ideal. With TV shows like "Mad Men" and "Boardwalk Empire," old-fashioned drinks and drinking glasses have been making a comeback. Just stop by any trendy bar in New York City (or any other metropolis) and you'll find cocktails served in the coupe glass. Though the Martini glass with its conical shape has been the choice cocktail glass for quite some time, the coupe is now preferred because it's easier to hold and maneuver without sloshing your beverage everywhere. Its petite size and rounded design is perfect for holding a drink even when you're tipsy. The bottom line is we don't care if it's shaped like a breast -- we just like drinking from it!
What do you think of the coupe glass? Let us know below.
In honor of this infamous glass, we've put together a slideshow of our favorite coupe glasses.
These coupe glasses from Riedel have a very elegant feel and are mouth blown from top-quality lead crystal. The set of two is great for a quiet and romantic dinner for two. The glasses are dishwasher safe. Riedel Grape Champagne Coupes, Set of 2, $49 at Williams-Sonoma.com
This glass simply looks exquisite in its presentation. The lower half of each glass is dusted in crystal to give it a unique sparkle. You won't find anything more spectacular. Orrefors Divine Champagne Coupe, $65 at Macys.com
A hand-etched floral pattern makes these glasses elegant enough for formal dining as well as charming for casual entertaining. The thick, green-tinted glass is handblown from recycled Mexican glass. Alessandra Etched Recycled Glass Coupes, Set of 6, $75 at PotteryBarn.com
These elegant saucer-shaped coupe glasses are made fron non-leaded glass that's instead composed of specially formulated Titan crystal (made of titanium oxide and zirconium oxide) to create a very strong glass that's chip- and break-resistant as well as dishwasher safe. Schott Zwiesel Tritan Crystal Saucer Champagne Glasses, Set of 6, $71.90 at Amazon.com
If you're looking for a set of coupe glasses that doesn't break the bank, this set is it. It's perfect for serving sparkling wine or cocktails at large parties or for creating that stupendous Champagne tower you've always wanted. Cardinal International Bistro Coupe Champagne Glasses, Set of 12, $30.37 at Wasserstrom.com
This pair of Champagne coupe glasses is subtly etched with the words "Mr." and "Mrs.," making it the ideal toasting glasses for a newly wed couple at their reception. Kate Spade Darling Point Saucer Champagne Glasses Pair, $80 at ChelseaGiftsOnline.com
Learn how to make the Champs Elysees Cocktail with Robert Hess of The Cocktail Spirit on Small Screen Network.
Marie Antoinette image courtesy of ThroughtheLiquorGlass.com.
Also see "A History of Champagne Glasses".