Glorious Glass

When I first fell in love with wine and began working in a top retail shop in New Jersey, one of our great joys was taking samples left for us on Fridays around the corner to the pizza place. Three or four of us would order and get the red, white and green wax paper cups that every pizzeria seems to have and enjoy wine. We were quite a spectacle — the guys who ran the pizzeria loved it.

Gift Glasses For Your Wine Lover

This producer remains the gold standard for quality glassware, with many different styles and shapes for almost any budget. The Ouverture Series provides a variety of shapes and sizes at an affordable price. The more established collector will enjoy the Vinum Series. The glasses are machine-blown, and each shape is tailored to a specific grape variety. For a lavish gift for a beloved wine collector, consider the handblown Sommelier Series.

Schott Zwiesel
This German glassmaker has numerous lines, and two of the basic ones make for quality, machine-washable stems that can survive some rough treatment. The Forte Series has a more traditional rounded shape, while the Pure Series is more angular. The lead oxide in Schott Zwiesel’s crystal is replaced with titanium oxide, which makes for a break-resistant glass. The 1872 Series is handblown, and while they are less resistant to breakage, they are still machine-washable.

Peugeot L’Impitoyable
My Champagne friends swear by the #4 glass in this series, which they say makes Champagne smell and taste far more intense than any other sparkling wine glass. The maker claims that each glass will mercilessly reveal the quality (and the flaws) of the wines put in it.

One January night, we went through our ritual, and a domestic Pinot Noir we had all been excited to try performed exceptionally poorly. I got to take the bottle home, and with snow on the ground and no plans, I headed home to test-drive the Riedel glasses my mother had given me for Christmas. They looked beautiful and replaced the thick, knobby little glasses I’d had since college. I poured a glass of Pinot into the Burgundy stem, lifted it to my nose and was stunned.

What a wine! What aromas! What flavors!

To some, it seems silly that something like the shape of a wine glass can have such a profound effect on flavors, but it’s true. I saw Georg Riedel demonstrate these effects to a room of wine lovers at The American Restaurant several years ago. Three glass shapes were demonstrated and we were invited to smell and taste wines from the “wrong” glass and then the “right” glass. I watched dozens of pairs of eyes light up as they saw the effect.

“A wine glass is a tool,” Riedel said. “You must use the right one for the right job.”

The basic principles behind each shape are that each style of wine has distinct aromas, flavors, textures and structures, and each wine shows its best when the glass is designed to reveal each wine component at its best.

For example, Cabernet-based blends tend to be less aromatically intense, fuller in body and lower in acidity. The best shape delivers the wine to your nose, and then to the part of your tongue that will perceive the richness of the wine.

In contrast, Pinot Noir tends to be more intense aromatically, lighter in body and higher in acidity. A good Pinot Noir glass allows the aromas to concentrate in a large bowl and then deliver the wine closer to the tip of your tongue. It sounds crazy, but our tongue is structured so that we perceive different flavors along its length.

This is not to say that you need a differently-shaped glass for every grape, though Riedel certainly seems to have one. I have five shapes: Champagne flutes, a narrow white wine glass, a wider white wine glass; and, for reds, a traditional Bordeaux shape and a bigger Burgundy/Pinot Noir bowl.

That said, you can never have too many glasses! So this holiday season, think stemware for your favorite wine lover!

Categories: Beer, Wine, Spirits, Food