Choosing wine glasses has become almost as complicated as selecting a wine. Stemware options have exploded in the last few years, adding to what already can be an intimidating and perplexing process. As Wine Enthusiast’s Winemaker of the Year 2014 Charles Smith famously quipped, “It’s wine. Just drink it.” Yet Maximilian Riedel, the 11th generation Riedel glassmaker, said, “There is so much more to wine than a price and a good looking bottle; you need to have the right tools as well.”
Expert opinions aside, we all might concede that on a special occasion, nothing beats the melodic ring of fine mouth-blown crystal glasses clinked together in a toast. Before you pick out a set of wine glasses, ask yourself what you want from them. These hints from our friends at Riedel Crystal and Laithwaites Wine (host of Frontgate Wine) will help.
What Kind of Drinker Are You?
Are you an aspiring wine connoisseur who’s interested in studying how specific wines develop in the glass? Do you envision yourself holding more serious wine tastings at your home? Do you collect prized bottles? Then invest in a set of varietal-specific crystal glasses – clear, uncolored and uncut like the Riedel Wine Glasses. With proper care, they’ll last forever and take you to a whole new level of wine understanding.
Everyday wine drinker? Don’t feel restrained (or confused) by all the choices out there. Pick a simple style (like the Burgundy glass described below) and it will serve you well with nearly every wine you pour into it.
Bowl Size and Shape
Whether the bowl is made from crystal or glass,it’s size and shape influence the intensity and complexity of the aromas. The shape of the rim determines where the wine initially lands on your tongue, affecting the perception of its taste. The wider the bowl, the more exposure your wine will have to oxygen as you sip, known in the industry as aeration. Aeration softens the tannins (acidity) and opens up the complex aromas and flavors of heavier reds such as Barolo, Bordeaux and Napa Cabernet.
For casual drinking, look for words like “Bordeaux” or “balloon,” which tend to have the largest bowl diameter. For serious appreciation, choose a varietal-specific glass best for the wine you tend to drink most frequently.
Bowls with a wide base that gently taper in toward the rim not only aerate the wine, but also usher delicate, perfumed aromas right to your nose. Red or white Burgundy or cooler climate Pinot Noir from Washington benefit from this type of glass. Stemware like the Riedel’s Sommeliers Burgundy Grand Cru glass was originally created for Piedmont reds, but also can be used for your favorite Barolo or Barbaresco, as well as fine Burgundy and Pinot Noir.
Flute or Coupe?
The tall, slender flute is the modern-day glass of choice for Champagne and other sparkling wines. Its narrow, tube-like shape prolongs the bubbles, and the complex aromas from a vintage sparkler are directed straight to your nose as you sip – an extra bonus.
But what about the glamorous coupe? More saucer with a stem than glass, this iconic shape is fabled to be modeled after Marie Antoinette’s bosom! It fell out of fashion with bubbly enthusiasts because the wide bowl encourages fizz to fall flat more quickly – not great if you’re a slow sipper. But they are still chic looking, especially if you’re going for a retro, Marilyn Monroe/Frank Sinatra vibe.
STEM OR STEMLESS?
“The stemless ‘O’ glass from Riedel has delighted many and outraged a few,” Riedel said. Since the company introduced this modern and minimalistic glass in 2004, stemless glassware has become a category all its own. The most notable benefit, of course, is that broken stems are a thing of the past. These glasses are easy to use, wash and store, fitting in every dishwasher, picnic basket, mini-bar and small kitchen cabinet.
While stemless glasses are practical and chic, warm hands may bring the temperature of your well-chilled Pinot Grigio up too high, dulling the crisp aromas and flavors. Double-walled styles keep hand temperature away from the wine, but also show smudges and fingerprints much easier. In short, stemless glasses are great for everyday, casual use.
“There is so much more to wine than a price and a good looking bottle; you need to have the right tools as well.”
A Final Tasting Note
Don’t be afraid to have fun with your wine, either. Novelty glasses in a rainbow of colors, textures and shapes have their place in the home as well. (Heck, we’ve even been known to serve a BBQ red in a mason jar over the summer!)
Casual and serious wine lovers alike have two ways to discover world-class vintages through Frontgate Wine and our Wine of the Month.