Aspen Times Weekly: The Right Tools

by Kelly J. Hayes

“A glass is a glass is a glass.”

So stated my friend recently at a Los Angeles restaurant after I had implored the waiter to please retrieve some appropriate stemware before pouring the Chardonnay that we were about to pay two and half times more than retail for.

“Au contraire, mon ami!” I replied. OK, I really didn’t say that, but I did explain that we had just purchased a $55 bottle of wine for lunch and the wine-glass-shaped-water-glasses that the waiter had brought, still warm from the dishwasher, were not only an insult to us, they were an insult to the wine. What’s more, you should never — ever — be embarrassed to request glasses that will allow you to enjoy your wine to the fullest.

Like any other endeavor worth doing, when drinking wine you should always have the right tools. Aside from your eyes, your nose and palate, the most important tool to use is a good wine glass. Oh, I know, good wine glasses can be expensive, they break when not handled correctly, and you may not quite understand why a Burgundy tastes better in a Burgundy glass than it does in a Bordeaux glass anyway.

“When I toast friends
and loved ones with the
Woodstocks, the sound and
vibration of the clinking
bulbs resonate both in the
air and in the glass for a
seeming eternity. The intent
and the meaning of the
toast lingers long. That’s
a good thing.”

But, trust me, if you drink your wine, especially your good wines, in glasses with not just the proper shape, but made of good materials, it will add another element to enhance your wine drinking experience. And the alternative, bad wine glasses, de-hance the experience.

So what makes a good wine glass? That can be a very personal question, but to me a good glass begins with how it feels in your hand. Is it balanced? Does it attract your fingers to the stem? Are you compelled to look into it, swirl it and put your nose in it? When you tilt it to your lips, do you look forward to the first sip with anticipation? Answer yes to these questions and you likely have the right tool for you.

I recently took a look at my stemware and was astounded to discover 57 glasses sitting my glass cabinet. Sure, many have been gifted and I bought others, but I like all of them and would be happy to sip from any. However, there are five in particular that I purchased long over a decade ago that I use nightly for Syrah, Malbec, Zinfandel, in fact just about any of my red wines.

My favorite glasses are heavy Bordeaux-shaped glasses, hand-blown with lead-free crystal, in the Vermont factory of Simon Pearce. The artisan glass-blowing studio and adjoining restaurant are perched over a river in the tiny village of Quechee and both are magical.

My wife and I bought a pair of seconds, that is to say glasses with imperfections, a few years ago and loved them so much that we made a second trip to Quechee to round out a collection of six, five of which survive today. The glasses are heavy, I’m guessing they weigh close to a pound, and they can hold 16 ounces of wine, a hefty pour indeed. Simon Pearce has designated the glasses as the “Woodstock” glass and says that Pinot, Cabernet, Merlot and Zinfandel thrive in them. I agree.

But what I love most about my Woodstocks is how they sound. Ah yes, that other sense. When I toast friends and loved ones with the Woodstocks, the sound and vibration of the clinking bulbs resonate both in the air and in the glass for a seeming eternity. The intent and the meaning of the toast lingers long. That’s a good thing.

While the joy a glass brings may be one reason to own it, true geeks…er, connoisseurs, will swear that there are things more important than simple joy. To get the most out of a wine, it is important to drink from a vessel that delivers both the aroma and the liquid to the exact right place in your nose, or on your palate.

Georg Riedel has made the greatest contribution — and the greatest fortune — by creating a roster of specialized glasses for all of your drinking needs that are the ultimate “tools” for consuming wine. The shape and materials of each of these glasses will improve the experience of drinking anything, from water to tequila, if for no other reason than they will force you to focus on the liquid and the glass.

The cool cons …er, connoisseurs, are currently consuming their precious wines in the glasses made by Zalto. Incredibly thin but still sturdy (it’s all relative), these glasses from Austria have angles that reflect the curves of the earth and are modeled after ancient Roman storage devices.

All this to say that a glass is more than just a glass.

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