It was recently brought to my attention by an astute reader that I have zero information currently regarding what your wine is served in. Given that this is an important aspect of wine enjoyment, I will try to rectify that today with a brief overview of my thoughts regarding wine glasses.
First off, I’ll get straight to the heart of the matter. Yes the glass you use is important. No doubt about it. Having sampled wine from a multitude of glasses during my life (everything from plastic cups to hand blown crystal) I can say without a doubt that the glass can change the wine. So if you are a doubter and think that the cheap, thick rim glasses you can pick up at any department store will work, I’ll say this simply – you are wrong.
Ok, with that out of the way, lets move on to some more specific information. The number of quality wine glasses on the market currently is huge. Lots of brands to choose from, shapes from classic to very modern, and fairly wide price ranges as well. Some of the most well known are Riedel, Zalto, Schott Zwiesel, Spiegelau, Bormioli, etc. There are many more than this, but I’m not trying to cover every wine glass on the market, just give you some options. My personal glass cabinet is mostly filled with Riedel along with a couple of Schott Zwiesel, but I’ve had excellent drinking experiences out of all of the above. Overall what you want is a glass with a relatively thin lip, an adequate bowl to allow aeration, and generally a slight taper towards the top to concentrate the aromas. You have probably noticed that many glasses are labeled with a specific grape varietal, i.e. syrah or cabernet. While I do think that the glass can definitely make a difference, I am not of the opinion that you need a different glass for every different wine that you drink. I for one would run out of glass space fairly quickly if I tried to accommodate that! So how many glasses is enough??
Lets start with white/sparkling wine glasses. I lump these together because I generally drink them out of the same vessel. What!!?? Flutes are clearly the way to go for Champagne right? NO! If there is one wine glass type that should be eliminated from the market, it is the Champagne flute. Those skinny little things are terrible to drink from, much less try to smell the wine. Thus, while they are pretty and romantic, get rid
of them. Ok ok, yes I have some, but I don’t use them! If you are going to use a specific sparkling wine glass at least get a tulip shaped glass that has a decent opening to allow you to smell the wine. I have had reasonable success with the Riedel Sommelier series Champagne glass. My personal approach however is to drink sparkling and most all white wines out of similar glasses. I have a number of the Riedel stemless O series Chardonnay/Viognier pictured. I find these to be very workable for essentially all whites and bubblies. Basically you want a smaller bowl with a taper to the opening. The Zalto Universal, Zalto white wine, any number of Riedel glasses, or the Schott Zwiesel white wine glass would all be very serviceable. I have tried different whites out of more specific glasses including riesling, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc and haven’t found a huge difference. Sure I sometimes wish I had a little bigger bowl for some of my white Burgundy wines, but for space reasons, I think you can make due with one style of glass or white and sparkling.
Ok, so what about red wines? I generally differentiate red wines into 2 categories. Yes, this is an over simplification, but it generally works. The categories I use are delicate and bold. Delicate encompasses most pinot noir, gamay, nebbiolo, frappato, nerello mascalese, mencia, some sangiovese, some old world tempranillo, and some grenache
based wines. These wines I find generally show better out of a Burgundy style glass. They have more subtle aromas that can get lost in the huge openings on some other glasses. I was given a set of the Riedel Sommelier Series Burgundy glasses and these are my go to glasses for most wines of this type. Certainly for all pinot noir, most nebbiolo, and most gamay. I have sampled side by side out of the Burgundy Sommelier Series and compared this to the regular Burgundy, the Oregon pinot noir, and other pinot glasses and I will say the Sommelier series always wins. I also have quite a number of the Riedel O pinot noir/nebbiolo glass. This is a great low key glass and the lack of stem generally means you are going to knock it over a lot less and therefore break fewer. Do these show pinot noir as well as the Burgundy Sommelier glass? No, but they are markedly cheaper and more durable. Don’t get me wrong, I love stemmed glasses, but they fall over a lot easier…
Ok, so what about the “bold” category. This generally includes cabernet sauvignon, Bordeaux, merlot, syrah, some Sangiovese, some tempranillo, some grenache, most other Italian reds (aglianico, sagrantino, cannonau, etc), mourvedre, cabernet franc, zinfandel, malbec, etc. These are bigger, darker, and more potent wines that have often have
powerful aromas. They don’t need a glass that tapers because the power of the wine and the aromas will be plenty noticeable in a glass with a big opening. For these wines I use a classic Bordeaux styled glass such as the Riedel O Cabernet/Merlot (again no stem, less breakage), the Zalto Bordeaux glass, or the Riedel Vinum Cabernet/Bordeaux. These glasses generally work well for most of the wines mentioned above. One thing to consider however, is the age of the wine. A 25-30 year old Bordeaux probably does not need a huge Bordeaux glass and may actually show better in a Burgundy style glass or something like the Zalto Universal. Riedel actually makes a “mature Bordeaux” glass that is much smaller than the typical Cabernet glass. The same goes for a 20 year Hermitage or Chateauneuf . Again, a smaller glass or Burgundy glass will probably show this better. Again, you can find glasses for every varietal out there and while I can’t claim to have tried all of them, I think it is probably overkill to have a glass for every varietal. If you have unlimited space and an unlimited budget… go for it! Get the Hermitage glass, the Claret glass, the Burgundy bowl, the Montrachet glass, the Riesling glass, the sparkling wine tulip, etc. But you see my point that you will run out of space and money quickly.
So my advice is to have a minimum of 3 glasses. A general white style glass to use for whites, rose, and bubbly. A pinot noir/Burgundy style glass to use for more delicate reds. And finally a Cabernet/Bordeaux style glass for the big reds. Having only 3 styles will also allow you have multiple of each so that when you host guests you can serve them out of appropriate glasses which they will (hopefully) appreciate. If you have 3 styles of glasses that are well made by a reasonable manufacturer (especially those listed here) then I think your wine enjoyment will increase!
Ok, I’ll end this discussion for now as I’m sure most of you are tired of reading it. At a later date I’ll try to delve into decanting, aerating, etc.