When we moved to the Bay Area, I took a few cooking classes and Chef indulged our group, bringing in a Riedel representative to do a comparative wine glass tasting. I was very skeptical that a glass could make any difference; however, the bonus of attending the seminar was it included 4 Riedel Vinum glasses. I was hooked!
The basic premise is that you take 4 glasses (a Bordeaux, Pinot Noir, an Oaked Chardonnay, and a Sauvignon Blanc) and you ‘sniff and taste test’ each of the varietal wines one at a time. Beginning with the wine in the correct varietal glass, subsequently pouring it into the other glasses and re-tasting, the aromatics and flavors on the palate were clearly ‘best’ in the varietal glasses. I officially rose to the rank of ‘snob.’ Lucky for me, I was able to attend several of these ‘tastings’ and was always offered a greatly reduced price to purchase additional 4 glass sets. And so, my collection began!
According to the Riedel website, ‘Different wine varieties have different characteristics and flavor profiles. The size and shape of whatever vessel you use – whether that's a RIEDEL glass or plastic cup - will alter the way your senses perceive the wine.’ Riedel was the original pioneer in wine glass design, but other players have since entered the marketplace. As a result of the general acceptance that certain shaped stemware is appropriate for specific varietals, there is now a trend and plenty of marketing for a universal wine glass – one glass to be used for any type of wine. This idea mirrors the testing of candidates for the Master of Wine and WSET Diploma programs where all types of wines blind tasted are generally poured into Riedel Vinum Riesling stemware. Obviously, a white wine glass!
There has been much written about which stemware is the best. I have added links to articles written by other writers and scientists at the end of this article for you to peruse at your leisure. However, the following personal details helped me to decide what was best for me when shopping for stemware.
The glass had to have a stem as I did not want to hold the glass by the bowl, warming the wine, or leaving fingerprints or smudges that I would have to look through.
The stem had to be tall enough that the glass looked elegant on the table and was easy to grasp as I reached over my dinner plate and utensils.
While taller is better, in my opinion, it had to be balanced with a base that was not easy to dump when bumped.
The stem and size of the bowl of the glass had to look and feel balanced.
The rim had to be relatively thin, not like a Libby wine glass from Target or a Mason jar! More of a thin, cut edge rather than a rolled edge.
The glass or crystal had to be clear with no noticeable imperfections and thin enough to not distort the color of the liquid inside.
Every wine glass has a ‘feel’ in your hand and you must find your nirvana.
It had to look elegant.
2. Cost and quantity:
How many stems are you purchasing and what is your budget or choke point? For me, I was introduced to the Riedel Vinum Series and was able to purchase these at a very low price. Therefore, I am fortunate to have Bordeaux, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Champagne glasses for 14 which I use for dinner parties. You can generally find these for around $40 a stem.
For drinking while in the mountains, I use Spiegelau Salute Bordeaux stemware which is about ¾ of an inch taller than the Riedel but has the same, overall shape, for $10 a glass on Amazon. They are a bargain in price, look great and have a thin rim (the brand is also owned by Riedel).
I have tried several of the ‘universal’ style stems (Zalto, Jancis Robinson, etc.) and have recently purchased a couple of the Josephine No. 2 Universal stems created by Kurt Josef Zalto. Priced at $80 - $95 each, these are not for the faint of heart. I’m intrigued by how thin and lightweight they are but rather than purchasing for entertaining, I selected these for personal tasting. Or, shall we say, I simply got sucked in! However, I do like the aromatics of the wine from this glass and, curiously enough, Riedel now makes a stem that looks similar called Wine Wings!
3. Ease of Cleaning:
While we have broken our share of the Riedel glasses, our biggest losses have been from twisting the bowl one direction while holding on to the stem to dry. That little twist can snap the stem from the bowl in a heartbeat! Once we mastered that, using a thin, microfiber towel to dry and buff the glass is easy as the opening is a reasonable size. A tiny opening would make drying a challenge, so be sure to pay attention to that parameter.
I have also placed the glasses in the dishwasher (I have an after-market glass rack that I can put in the bottom rack of my dishwasher) but quickly learned that you need to remove the stems after the wash cycle and hand dry the glasses to avoid spots. As we all have different sized hands, etc., this is another personal parameter.
While these features do not consider every detail, it should serve to get you thinking about what you want and how you intend to use and clean them. A tweet from Wine Folly (https://twitter.com/WineFolly/status/1604804738964344832?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Etweet) also suggests that the diameter of the opening of the glass will greatly affect the way wine tastes. ‘A 2 ½ inch opening makes red wine taste less aggressive with softer tannins and acidity. Less than 2 ½ inches and red wine will be fresher, spicier with bolder tannins.’ Have fun trying various glasses and enjoy shopping whether it is for a tasting set, a universal glass, or a collection of glassware. I really like the Riedel Vinum, am always pleased when drinking a Bordeaux from my $10 Spiegelau and will enjoy experimenting with the Josephine universal glass. Find what is best for you!
Am I a wine glass snob? Probably! If I am going to enjoy a nice wine, I want to have a great glass as, for me, it is part of the whole experience. While these are parameters I used in choosing stemware, I am merely providing these to encourage you to try several glasses so you can decide what is important for your personal enjoyment.
So, as you drink through the holidays, here’s to you enjoying your wine in a manner and vessel that suits your style. Hail to all the wine glass snobs out there!
The following links are to a couple of articles you might also find helpful in your search:
The 9 Best Wine Glasses for 2022 in Food & Wine Magazine: https://www.foodandwine.com/lifestyle/kitchen/best-wine-glasses
Examining the Science Behind Wine Glass Shapes from SevenFiftyDaily: https://daily.sevenfifty.com/examining-the-science-of-wineglass-shapes/