A Toast To Good Glassware

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - August 25, 2006
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I don’t mean to be snooty, but you have to serve wine in the appropriate vessel. To me that means glasses - clean, properly shaped glasses. The scene in the movie Sideways of Miles drinking a bottle of 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc - one of the greatest wines, valued at a couple thousand dollars - alone in a burger joint out of a Styrofoam cup still sends shivers down my spine. I’m sure you’ve experienced some pretty un-wine-friendly wine occasions too.

From time to time you’ll see wine tastings in supermarkets. I’ve done these before. But guess what you get to taste the wine in? A tiny plastic cup that looks more like a thimble than something to drink out of. Come on! How is anyone supposed to truly get all the aromas and nuances out of the wine from a thimble? You can’t smell anything from such a small surface area. No wonder they don’t sell a lot of wine at those tastings.

Casual parties are a great time to bust out some fun wines too, usually nothing too expensive or earth-shattering, just nice, refreshing and quaffable bottles. But out of a plastic juice cup? It’s a little better than the thimble, but you’re still not getting the full experience of the wine, are you? You can smell more, but still not as much as you should.

Can you believe even some restaurants still serve their wines in those old-style Collins-looking glasses? The ones that are straight on the sides and no stem are good for Italian sodas, but not for wines. Sure, that’s the way some bistros and cafes in Europe still serve their wine, but I hope they read this article online.

To get the full experience of wine, any wine, is to have it in good glassware. Good glassware is not hard to find. And it’s not as expensive as you think. Even discount stores carry them. I’ve seen some for 99 cents a piece. It’s worth making the small investment that will enhance your enjoyment of the wine for many years to come. That is, until you break them. (And try not to wash them after drinking a lot. That’s when most are broken.) If you’re not using the proper glassware, you’re not getting 100 percent of your investment in the wine. Maybe you’re only getting 80 percent to 50 percent of your investment. You don’t have to be an accountant to know that’s a bad rate of return.

The shape of the glass certainly matters too. You want glasses that have an aperture slightly smaller than the widest point of the bowl. This helps to capture the aromas so you can smell them, which is a huge part of wine’s enjoyment.

I would not recommend anything that has the shape of a horn, which allows all those aromas to escape. They may look beautiful, but they don’t help the wine. There are dozens of variations on this basic shape, as you’ve probably seen.

Some glassmakers have made it a science, like Riedel, The Wine Glass Company. They have a glass for every major type of wine and spirit as well as different tiers of quality, ranging from glass to fully leaded crystal. They are beautiful works of art and enhance every drinking occasion. They even have glasses without stems, easier to wash and store and you can’t break off the stem - a novel idea. If you don’t believe that it matters, I dare you to try whatever you have at home next to a Riedel glass, and I know you’ll smell and taste a big difference.

Few people go as far as buying Riedel glassware, but in the end all you have to do is make sure that you have some decent glasses. OK, if there are no glasses, I’ll drink it out of a cup, maybe even a thimble. But if I know there’s going to be good wines around, chances are I’ll bring my own glasses, just in case.

My favorite glasses: Riedel Vinum Burgundy Lead Crystal ($25) for my favorite Pinot Noirs.

Riedel Sommeliers Series Vintage Champagne ($60) Mouth blown, hand-made lead crystal for the most beautiful of all bubblies.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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