When it comes to picking wine glasses the modern oenophile has more to choose from than ever before — maybe a little too much. Wine glasses used to be a pretty simple thing, you either drank from the cheap glasses you picked up at IKEA, or when company came over, you pulled out the crystal goblets your grandma left you. Not so anymore. There’s more expectation these days that you serve the right wine in the right glass — but what does that really mean?
There is no simple answer, and if you ask the world’s most successful purveyors of stemware at Riedel, they will tell you the glass makes all the difference. At Riedel you can buy a different wine glass for every major grape variety and style of wine available. The selection is staggering, offering wine glasses for everything from Ajaccio (a little known region in Corsica) to Zweigelt (a rare red grape from Austria) to everything in between. But do we really need a different glass for every single wine out there? Of course not. But if you’re selling them for a living, I suppose it makes sense to convince people that every wine deserves its own special receptacle.
Personally, I don’t have that kind of room in my cupboard or my budget, so having an arsenal of glassware at the ready isn’t really an option. So, what’s a wine guy to do without the perfect glass for every occasion? The truth is, wine glasses are pretty important, and they do go a long way to the enjoyment of a bottle of wine, but if you pick them carefully you can get away with one or two styles and not miss out on anything — you just need to get a few things right.
First off, here is what you need to avoid. Never buy wine glasses that are coloured or cut. People want to see wine, not some cheesy nouveau art stuck to the side of their glass. I don’t care how pretty you think it is, if it has cut glass or colour you need to ditch them. Second, it needs to be made of crystal, not glass. There’s nothing worse than raising a glass to your lips only to be greeted by a half-inch thick rim that makes you feel like you’re chugging a margarita. Third, it needs to be big enough to capture the aromas of the wine. So what we’re looking for here is something bigger than the sherry glasses our parents drank from that needed to be filled up every two minutes, and the ridiculous glasses you see at Winners that hold a bottle and a half of wine. Too small, you can’t smell anything, too big and the wine gets lost. What you want is something that is still comfortable to hold when it’s one-third full and has enough room left so you can get your nose in it and have a good sniff.
The shape is also an important factor. There are two classics that you should know, the Burgundy glass (fat and round) and the Bordeaux glass (tall and leaner). The folks at Riedel would tell you that these glasses will not only affect the way a wine smells, but also how it tastes. The theory is that the shape can concentrate or dissipate certain aromas, and that both the shape and length determines how the wine hits your tongue and which sensations are affected. This may seem a little far-fetched, but I have done some research here and found this to be true, mostly.
Does this mean you do need a different glass for every wine? Absolutely not. If you drink a glass once a week or less, and don’t entertain often, you can get away with a good one-size-fits-all. Go with something mid-sized — 500 ml or so will do. You shouldn’t have to pay more than five bucks a piece, so when one hits the floor you won’t be too broken up. But if you’re a bit more serious about wine, you might want to consider having a few options. An all-purpose white wine glass that is elegant enough to use for sparkling wine is pretty handy. Flutes seem to be going out of style as more people are opting for a slightly wider model for their bubbles. As for reds, you can easily get by with one good Burgundy style, but if you’re a big Cabernet drinker you may want to have some Bordeaux glasses on hand as well. Riedel makes some great options at all price levels, but if you go with the good stuff remember one important rule: never clean your glass the night of the dinner party. Put a little water in each one and let it sit over night. You’ll find you snap fewer glasses if you clean them when you’re not snapped yourself.
The moral of the story is that having a good quality wine glass is more important than having “the right” one. And make sure you have enough for all your guests — it’s never any fun when you’re the guy who gets there late and ends up drinking from the pickling jar.