Whether you are a wine connoisseur or a social drinker who wants to serve wines in the most elegant way, so as to impress guests for your parties, an inevitable question always pops up…how important is the ‘glass ware’ to the olfactory pleasure it brings. Statistics have measured to the best mathematical extent, that that this pleasure constitutes atleast 80% of wine appreciation. Before I started my wine training I was least bothered about the aesthetics of glass and not once did it come into my mind about pairing wine with a glass. Yes we are talking about "pairing" wine with glass instead of food in this blog. “When there is good wine, all we need to have is A glass…” true or not?
Rewinding back in my life when I started wine training in Hong Kong, I remember being reminded repeatedly that in order to become a wine expert, only one type of glass must be used ; the standard Luigi Bormioli 21.5 cl tough and resistant ISO glasses to learn to train my palate. This glass takes up a very small quantity of wine but the point was to keep it universally standard so that glass shape, size and volume will not impact the palate decisions. In any case, we as potential wine experts in the making, had to learn an important habit - to spit the wine out every time we taste, so the quantity was never a highlight for us. But the psyche of glass design when serving for consumption purposes, kept playing havoc in my brain confronting me time and again, as I could never opinionate on glass ware and that made me feel inadequate about the wine knowledge I was accumulating. After all if I am an expert in wines, I should be an expert in glasses too! Until one day I had an epiphany when relating to the sense of tactile and sensory fulfillment with an unrelated concept from my favourite sport of running. I do not have much time for select sports fashion in my super active life and put on just about any running gear from bulk discount stores, like many of us do. But if I am offered a luxury Cole Haan's or Lulu Lemon or Kate Hudson’s super sporty, Helix zig zag crop top, that perfectly wraps my body like silk or Tamara and Simon Norton Hills’ soft Gravity defying cropped compression wear, I realised that somewhere and somehow, I do end up getting a feeling of being a fitness goddess like Jennifer Aniston. Whether I 'can' run or not, then becomes least of my concerns. What happens here? This is the 'somatosensory' impression (perception through the sense of touch) that is created via brand differentiation, quality and pricing and just like any other commodity, glassware is no exception to this rule.
Glass was a luxury item during the Roman Hellenistic times. What we know as the modern transparent glass was not what glass used to be. Glass was created very accidentally because of metal glazing works in the prehistoric times around 2000 BC. A basic glass block was cut out and modified by heating, melting and pouring it over special pre-made moulds to create special hand crafted goblets. These simplistic styles glasses had thick walls with wide rims, shaped into deep goblets with handles. But we sure have come a long way in glass technology. The invention of glassblowing from the 16th century onwards and the creation of derivatives of cameo and stained glass-ware that were followed by the crown glass process, helped shape the style of modern day stemware into the variety we see today.
What must one look out for then when choosing a modern glassware today?
1) Shape of the base - The wider the base the more it will help aromas to circulate. Generally red wines dissipate more aromas as they have the additional content of tannins and so wider and more rounded bases are generally used for red wines. Narrower base for white wines.
2) Rim width- Narrow rim will help bring out soft floral fruity aromas and as such used for white wines while red wines possessing bigger and wider spectrum of flavours (fruity to earthy and even sweaty reductive flavours) and may need wider rim which also help the wine breath and dissipate flavours in a more rounded way.
3) Stem or Stemless? – In modern drinking cultures where temperature can be preserved through use of cellars and refrigerators, this may not be that material but the theory behind it was to hold stem to avoid warmer body temperature spreading out from the palm heating up the wine and thereby taking away its aromas.
But are there any hard and fast rules here in the world we live today?
We must all be thankful to the glorious Austrian glassmaker Riedel, who has been credited with creating the glass design that has become most universally acceptable in today’s drinking world. The traditional egg base shaped wine glasses very quickly took over the old conical shaped or tulip shaped glasses and wid rimmed goblets through the pioneering work of Riedel when they released the ‘Sommeliers’ range in 1973 which was based on the the principle that “form follows function”. These were wine glasses that were practically appealing, making them accessible to the masses. Riedel further on went to investigate into the theory of developing a functional glass that actually enhances wine appreciation and fulfils the whole palate spectrum that led to the introduction of the first machine made ‘Vinum’ Glass in 1986. Basically its a particular design of glass for each and every grape varietal. I had the privilege of meeting and participating with George J Riedel himself in Hong Kong, where he patiently took a few of us on a full day exercise into an unknown path of discovering our taste buds by experimenting with different glasses. These included tasting wines out of mason jar, paper glass (and every shape one could possibly think of!) which drove a few of us into hysterical laughs but he was making a serious point in the most basic manner that even a wine novice could also understand. Important to note was his detailed work on researching the points where wine touches the tongue and how the aromas walk their way into the olfactory foramina into our bulbs affecting our perception of the wine. An unforgettable experience which stayed in my mind for times to come and although his ‘tongue-mapping’ concept was later criticised by scientists as not having enough evidence to back it, there was an element it appealed to our inner psyche that he convincingly reached out. That the sensual effect can be heightened by changing the rim width, shape (note the Riedel Vinum Pinot Noir glass rim surprisingly turns outwards at a soft angle), base depth and height of the glass and by doing so, it would create a different impression and sensual understanding of the varietal, was definitely a mind blowing revelation. The architecture of Riedel stem ware was a culmination of research on factors that characterise each varietal such as how aromatic or non-aromatic it is, how heavy or light bodied it is, how sweet or dry it is and the levels of acidity and how they need to be curtailed or heightened to maximise the aftertaste. It all seems fair game till now! Are we not looking at psychologically getting the full pleasure out of what we pay for? Riedel has been on the forefront of glass innovation and surely has added an impressive element of complexity to the theory of glass ware.
In 2004, Riedel further took a step forward to creating the most practical shape of glass, doing away with stems all together by designing the stemless “O glass” range that are very popular in homes now. They provide ease of stacking, storage, dishwasher even in the smallest compact square space of Manhattan homes. Meant for every day pleasure and enjoyment, the aim to make wine simple and easy to enjoy for the younger generation.
The "O" range claimed to make easy everything that Vinum was unable to do. But if you are living in a humble 300 square feet abode paying ridiculous rents, how many styles of glasses can you possibly accumulate, that too each commanding high prices (ranging from £25-55 for a single glass) and we have not even factored in the probability of breakage here! According to a mental data calculation tool (that also averages age factored memory loss), investing in a fixed number of more than 4 styles of glasses is humanly and practically very challenging for the memory to upkeep, unless you are a quantitative analyst. Further on, with a particular grape expressing itself in a different style in each region, regional diversity has further added to the complication of whether one standard Shiraz glass will bring out the quality notes of that region or is there a chance of bringing out overwhelming flavours making even a quality wine an unattractive proposition. This has been proven in a sommelier's glassware experiment conducted recently.
Now a highlight of some of the well recognised alternate glass producers that have earned name for themselves :
Schott Zwiesel - This German glassmaker has been producing fine quality glass for over 140 years. They make glass ware using a special Tritan crystal glass technology, a patent technology they have developed for their brand using titanium oxide instead of lead, that make them high chip resistant and resilient. Easy to maintain and equally impressive in aesthetics you can buy it online form any wine store or even through amazon.
Spiegelau - is a brand that has been making glass since 1521 and is still in business. Although officially taken over by Riedel, they still maintain their brand identity and are known for their durability and quality in manufacture. Known as the “class for glass” the platinum technology that the glass passes through during liquid form lends itself to a high level of resistance and also prevents impurities leaching in. Their glasses known for their versatility and claim to be highly dishwasher resistant.
Chef and Sommelier - The "Open up" range is claimed to be the most popular in almost every upscale French restaurant and meant to blow your visuals off and take you on a journey that uplifts your sensual pleasure They are meant to retain purity, have the shatter resistant technology that keeps them sturdy and display immense elegance when laid on a table. The company claims that the technology for the innovation comes from research with professionals who work in the food and beverage industry. You will not be disappointed with these glasses but need to mentally make do with their narrow opening (roughly about 2 cm for the narrowest white wine glass) so if you have a long or even a slightly wide nose that could be a genetic fault leadig to limited sensual pleasure! But if you are looking for your glasses to get noticed and be a centre piece of a dinner conversation then you have probably achieved the purpose.
Zalto - Known to many in the wine circle and the latest buzz word in wine stemware is Zalto, made famous by the highly sought after, Private Wine Club, 67 Pall Mall Club in the heart of St James’s in London which was blamed for notoriously shutting down the Zalto factory for a few months due to the outrageous capacity of order they had placed on this boutique glass manufacturer before they set to open their club. The Austrian designers behind this brand have taken glass tech to an ultra-fine level creating aesthetically very delicate mouth blown and non -leaded crystal yet highly acclaimed and tested as hardy and durable glasses that are currently in use in top Michelin restaurants of this decade. How does that feel? Apart from capturing your taste, smell and visual buds, the tactile perception heightens your deeper haptic perception completing your sensual experience. The result is an elite and refined classy experience when drinking out of this glass. But be ready to shell out enough before you even approach it (starting price £35/glass for Zalto Den’art Universal Glass)
Stolzle and Lausitz is an equally recognised German brand that has been manufacturing for 130 years and recently gaining popularity as an identical but a more competitively priced version to the more prestigious Zalto brand. Its stem may be a couple of millimeters wider than Zalto’s but recent consumer reviews have expressed high satisfaction and confidence in this brand, with its lead free crystalline and dishwasher and fracture resistant glassware.
Villeroy by Villeroy and Bosh also does a decent every day set of 4 wine glass goblets at £15/set (apart from high range bathroom accessories).
No doubt that glass ware has become more eclectic, aesthetic, sophisticated alluring, delicate and stylish yet equally hardy and tough. More so now with ever improving technology, I can picture them developing legs in a few years, that can walk into the dishwasher themselves and place themselves there! I do hope that they do not let us down as we so need that service too!
Well, at the end it is the price that makes or breaks the decision as we all have budgets to adhere to. Stolzle and Lausitz does tick all the brackets including rating on price, breakage resistance, aesthetic feel and durability, with most of their glasses at £20 (for a set of 6) as opposed to the other brands above for a regular every day usage.
So the ultimate decision rests in your hands. Let us be mindful and practical about the price vs utility and functionality of these glasses when making a glass ware decision. Focus on drinking less and but drinking quality wines, and if you are able to set aside some stash to buy a limited number some of the above bountiful expensive quality goblets, for one of those rare occasional well deserved treats, you are surely justified and deserve the treat! However, if you are one of those clumsy people like me who are likely to easily spill, stain and break glasses or hate cleaning up, I would hesitate to use the more expensive versions on a daily basis. But don’t deny yourself of pleasure either. As I stated in the first paragraph, I add the following words to my previous quote to complete my thought for the day, “Where is there high quality wine, it may be, just may be worthwhile drinking it out of a high quality glass to gain ultimate fulfilment and enrichment for a complete palate experience!”
What is my final recommendation? Take a mindful mix of these brilliant dazzles for an unparalleled experience and for a rare well deserved celebratory treat but do stay tuned in on earth and keep a regular set of functional quality glassware (also included above) for those days when your body just does not coordinate well and breakage is written in your fate!
Lets be true to ourselves- It is not just always about appreciating the wine but also the journey that enhances the appreciation. Glassware is important to turn on your sensory perception to support you in this journey because after all what you aim for is to unwind and awaken your inner senses at the end of a hardworking day. However, in no way do ends justify the means. Take a practical approach and maintain a balance between inner peace, stylish desires, financial security and good health! Buy what you can afford to and what is functional. Separate the treats for special days and keep them rare to keep them special. Irrespective of whether I am a convert to a Zalto or Spiegelau or just prefer a regular super market white and red wine glass, a prior knowledge of how to appreciate wine is worthwhile, before heading out to display extravagant accessories in your party.