What was once merely a vessel that carried wine from point A (the bottle) to point B (your mouth), the wine glass has become the center of attention. Using proper stemware is a way to elevate your wine experience and truly discover what the wine has to offer. It can also be showy and pretentious but wine is one of those things that can be authentic and down to earth, and sexy and superficial at the same time. You don’t always have to approach wine with a Gandalf-like aura of knowledge and humble mastery. Sometimes you just want to pour a nice wine into a good-looking glass and, drumroll, drink it without thinking too much of it. However, if you want to get the most out of the wine you spent three months saving up for then, please, I beg you, use at least a half-decent wine glass.
What is a proper wine glass?
What is a proper wine glass, then? Well, let’s start with this: you do not need a wine glass to drink wine. Sounds a bit obvious, so I should clarify. You don’t need a wine glass to have a great moment with a particular wine, which is what it’s all about, moments. I once drank Château d’Yquem straight from the bottle in the backseat of a Fiat Punto because A) there were no wine glasses around and B) why not. Some would argue that it was such a waste of good wine. Sure, I get that. Was I able to appreciate all the nuances to the fullest? Absolutely not. But it did create a life-long memory that hits deep, which is what I would imagine every good wine glass aims to do. This time, however, I cut out the middle man.
A good wine glass is a fine-tuned instrument that displays the wine unaltered but at the same time, slightly enhanced, so our tiny lizard brains can detect even a glimpse of what the wine is all about. A challenging and almost impossible task, I know, but hats off to the glassmakers for trying. You can geek-out on stemware nowadays and acquire an armada of varietal specific wine glasses to suit every occasion. If your kitchen/dining area has limited space, then maybe a few carefully selected all-purpose wine glasses might do the trick.
Ideally, but not always, a good wine glass should have a relatively thin edge with an inward-curving shape allowing you to swirl and sniff properly. Secondly, the glass should be dishwasher safe. That second part is not obligatory, but let’s be honest, nobody wants to wash and dry wine glasses by hand. I did it for years, pretending like it was a lost art. Now, I have three kids and say to hell with it. Washing a big set of wine glasses after a dinner party takes time and your will to live, trust me. Wine tasting shouldn’t be a chore. Luckily, finding high-quality wine glasses that will survive your dishwasher is fairly easy these days.
Good doesn’t always come cheap, but perhaps it helps to think of it as an investment. A nice glass lasts a long time if you take care of it and provides many unforgettable moments.
A great piece of stemware won’t save a terrible wine, but it can highlight a good one.
Here are a few favorites, a shortlist if you will, that is based on no actual scientific investigation whatsoever. This list is based on personal ongoing trial and error. I have found that these wine glasses help my daily grind of tasting wine and, most importantly, bring joy by showing the wine as is, faults and all. I’m not here to say these are the absolute best wine glasses out there, but I would say there’s a good chance you would enjoy using them. In the end, you have to find out yourself which glass works for you.
Zalto Denk’Art Universal Glass
Delicate and straightforward. That’s all you need to know. Zalto is an Austrian glass manufacturer, and the wine world is going absolutely nuts for their glasses (except the ones who are not). Zalto glasses are not exactly heavy-duty, so I suggest not to use this glass when your powerlifter friends come over. This glass provides zero mascara for the wine and somehow is able to put the focus on finesse. Although the glass seems ultra fragile, so far, I haven’t been able to break these in the dishwasher.
Riedel O Wine Tumbler Cabernet/Merlot
Even if I put my party hat on, I prefer a wine glass with a stem. It’s deeply rooted in me, I’m afraid. However, Riedel’s O Wine Tumbler does make for a pretty easygoing wine glass for all sorts of occasions. Shape-wise, this glass should satisfy all your nerdy needs but beware: the laws of thermodynamics do apply. Fondling the glass too long will eventually warm up the wine. So, drink fast or go with a stem.
Riedel Veritas Old World Syrah
If 90% of your wine consumption is red wine, then this is the glass for you. Especially if you enjoy more full-bodied reds, the Riedel Veritas Old World Syrah delivers stable performance. However, if you enjoy drinking Pinot Noir (as you should) opt for Zalto’s Denk’Art Burgundy glass, which also works well with Nebbiolo.
Spiegelau Authentis White Wine
Whenever possible, I taste my white wines with this glass (and a few red ones). Like a world-class MMA fighter, this glass can handle whatever you throw at it: white wine, red wine, and even gin & tonic. But if you are looking for something varietal specific like Riesling, for example, then try the Zwiesel 1872 Wine Classics Select Riesling glass.
Lehmann Grand Champagne
Champagne often gets a beating due to less than optimal wine glass choices. You don’t want to use those extremely narrow flutes for your precious vintage Champagne; you just don’t. I like using Lehmann Grand Champagne because the shape of the glass screams “bubbles,” but more importantly, it also gives the wine the space it deserves.