Aspen Times Weekly: Solid Stems

by Kelly J. Hayes


Riedel Ouverture Magnum Red Wine Glass

While this space normally is reserved for recommending a wine, this week I will recommend a glass for the wines I have previously recommended. Riedel is the premier maker of fine wine glasses and decanters, and over the years they have perfected the art of marketing different glasses for different varieties of wine. This is their “beginner” glass. The one with training wheels, I suppose. Crystal with a large bowl and shorter stem, this glass feels good, provides a well-proportioned opening for your shnoz and clinks as you toast. Perfection. And you can get a set of eight for $60 on Amazon.

I love a great wine glass almost as much as I love a great glass of wine.

There is something special about holding a well-made, well-balanced, glass in your hand, tilting it towards your nose, sniffing the wine inside and eventually bringing it to your lips for the first sip. Sure, you can do that with any glass. A juice jar will hold and convey liquid from a bottle to your mouth. But a great wine glass serves as a vessel to take you on a journey to the very origins of a bottle of wine.


As I am in the business, I have a plethora, call it an over abundance, of good glass. My steel and glass “glass cabinet,” purchased for peanuts from a local jewelry store that was going out of business, is home to 106 glasses. Yes, I counted them for this article.

Not all are wine glasses. I have four hand-painted artist edition “bier-glas” from Germany’s Ritzenhoff. Then there is the quartet of Mint Julep glasses, acquired at the 1988 Kentucky Derby (won by the filly Winning Colors with Gary Stevens in the saddle), listing the previous 113 winners, that I break out for fun, frivolity and bourbon the first Saturday each May. And I treasure the six Martini glasses that were gifted and now hold a spot front and center on the bottom shelf of the cabinet, awaiting cocktails that are shaken, not stirred.

But wine glasses dominate. Riedel Burgundy glasses, Bordeaux glasses, flutes for Champagne, a couple of Waterford “Mondavi series-Syrah” stems and a half-dozen “Black Rooster”engraved Chianti glasses that were made by Spiegelau. All are treasured.


With just a little bit of attention to detail, your wine experience can be greatly enhanced by using proper stemware, the word aficionados use to describe their glasses, for your wine. So what is “proper stemware?” It depends. If you have the space, money and inclination then there are myriad options. Even if you just need a half-dozen glasses in your kitchen for everyday drinking, there are still a few things to consider.

For example, there is school that insists, rightly so I believe, that shape matters. A great Burgundy or pinot noir is best served in a large, well-rounded bowl with a distinct narrowing at the top. This allows the floral aromas to be captured in the glass and collect, so when you put your nose in and inhale…nirvana. Bordeaux is better served in a taller, less rounded, though still tapered glass that directs the bolder wine to that spot on your palette that provides the most bang for the buck. And a Champagne flute provides the visual dimension of showcasing the bubbles as they rise to the top.

That said, there are dozens of shapes of stemware made for wine geeks that may improve the actual taste of a glass of wine for most people. While you may not need them all, or even most, to enjoy a selection of different wines, if you can afford to hoard stemware, more power to you.

But for the majority of wines, a glass with a bowl large enough to swirl wine without spilling, is slightly tapered at the top with a thinish rim, made from quality crystal or glass, and, most importantly, clean, will meet or exceed your expectations. Look for something in your budget and try to pay attention to the makers who specialize in the production fine wine glasses, like Riedel from Austria, and purchase their generic, everyday lines. (See Under the Influence)


While I subscribe to the belief that specialty glasses work best with specific wines, 95 percent of the time I drink my wine out of five glasses (yes, there were once six) that I bought over a decade ago at the Simon Pierce glass making factory in Quechee, Vermont. These glasses were “seconds” from the store in the factory because they were deformed or irregular in some way. Today they are perhaps my most perfect possessions.

With the general shape of a Bordeaux glass, they are thick and heavy. Each, because they were seconds, is unique or individual if you will. But what makes them so beloved is not just the feel in my hand or how they display my wines; it is the sound each makes when they are tapped together in a toast. An indescribable, joyful ring escapes from each glass as well wishes are passed between friends.

So what makes a perfect wine glass? Just like wine, it’s the one you like the best.

Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at