WineInk: Shapes of things
Great glasses for great wines
In a grand steakhouse in a far-away city, I recently ordered a glass of wine.
It was nothing too special, just a standard California Cabernet Sauvignon. But the sommelier brought out a special glass for me to taste the wine. It was a hand-blown Zalto Denk’Art Bordeaux Glass made by craftsmen in Zalto Glasshutte, a town in Neunagelberg in the south of Austria, which has a history of blowing that goes back over 600 years. The glass, which retails for $80, about four times the price of the glass of wine I had ordered, was delicate and well-balanced. It literally felt like an honor to hold. So impressed was I that I upgraded my wine. Well done by the sommelier. The event took me back to an earlier WineInk that celebrated the art of glass.
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 overabundance — 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” logo-ed Chianti glasses that were made by Spiegelau. All are treasured. Ironically, I don’t have a single Zalto in the 106, but that makes a case for future purchases.
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, the money, and the inclination, then there are a myriad of 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, one school 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 that when you put your nose in it and inhale, it’s nirvana. Bordeaux is better served in a taller, less rounded, though still tapered glass that directs the bolder wine to that spot on your palate 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 or may not 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, so that you can swirl without spilling that is slightly tapered at the top with a thin-ish 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 of fine wine glasses, like Zalto or Riedel from Austria, and purchase their generic, everyday lines. (See Under the Influence sidebar).
A JOYFUL NOISE
While I subscribe to the belief that specialty glasses work best with specific wines, 95% 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 Pearce 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 perfectly prized possessions.
With the general shape of a Bordeaux glass, my stems are thick and heavy. Each, because they were seconds, is unique, or individual, if you will. Flawed as they may be, these glasses are one-of-a-kind.
But what makes them so beloved is not just how they feel in my hand or how they display my wines; it is the sound they make when tapped together in a toast. An indescribable, joyful ring escapes from each glass, as well-wishes are passed between friends. The ringing of the glasses, when hit with just the right toast, will sound for as long as 15 seconds.
So what makes a perfect wine glass? Just like wine, the best glasses are the ones that you like the best.
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 a 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 8 for $130 on Amazon.