There is an entire school of thought that says that the wine glass you use will drastically impact the aroma, taste, finish – your entire wine experience. The wine glass you use may seem inconsequential (have you ever seen Italian wine poured into juice glasses?), but just Google “what type of wine glasses do I need?” and you’ll find pages of debates on blogs, forums, on social, and in the media about size and shape, and glass vs. crystal, and Riedel vs. Zalto, and generic vs. varietal specific…the list goes on. I’ve personally heard every side of this argument from a variety of wine professionals, so I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a completely personal choice.
Crystal vs. Glass
The first decision to make is about whether you want crystal or glass. Crystal is very popular amongst wine professionals, the opacity is virtually nonexistant, and makes the wine and glass “sparkle.” It’s also spun much thinner, and has a more elegant look and feel. Glass, however, is generally much less expensive and far less prone to breakage. You will have less trouble using, handling and cleaning glass than you will crystal.
Stem vs. Stemless
Stemless wine glasses have become quite trendy over the last decade or so, and while they are even easier to handle and wash without breaking, there is still something to be said for a traditional wine glass with a bowl and stem. If you ever watch a wine professional (or true enthusiast), you’ll notice that they never, not once, touch the bowl of the glass. The entire time that they sniff, swirl, sip and spit, they will only ever hold the glass by the stem. This is completely intentional, and for two reasons. The first is purely aesthetic: fingerprints on wine glasses are unsightly. The second, however, is functional. Wine is (and should be) served at specific temperatures, generally slightly below room temperature, and certainly well below the average temperature of the human body. If you hold you wine by the bowl, your hand and body heat will warm the wine. This is not brandy!
Varietal vs. Universal
In 1973, Georg Riedel introduced a line of Riedel wine glasses that entirely interrupted the way that wine glasses are marketed and used. Riedel developed wine glasses called the “Sommelier” set glasses, each one made for a specific grape varietal. This presented a complete change in the way that wine glasses were used by wine professionals. Today, this means that when you decide to buy a set of wine glasses, you have a lot of options. Not only are there many, many options available to you, but hand blown crystal wine glasses do not run cheap. Buying a set of wine glasses could end up costing a fortune if you’re not careful! With so many choices, realistically, how many and what kind do you need? Unless you are a sommelier or a Master of Wine, using glasses to scientifically taste and critically evaluate wines, you likely do not need an entire set. In fact, most sources will tell you that to start off, if you do go the crystal route, you can probably stick with Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, and a set of sparkling wine glasses and be all set. If you’re drinking a decent amount of high end Burgundies, then you might consider adding a set of Burgundy glasses. Other than that, you will have your bases covered by the rest!
As I said, there are many schools of thought, with many differing opinions. Make an informed decision, because it is important to have a quality set of wine glasses, it will make a difference to the wine, but it’s not the end of the world if you decide to go more universal.