March 25, 1019
If the last time you went out to buy wine glasses you came home with a five-alarm headache and a bag of plastic tumblers, you, like me, have probably asked yourself: Why, WHY are there so many kinds of wine glasses? Do we really need a different glass for every variety of wine – one for chardonnay, another for pinot noir, one for cabernet, another for sauvignon blanc, and on?
“Holy Haut Medoc!” You think. “I have been doing this wrong all along! And who has that kind of shelf space?”
Recently, when someone presented me with a bottle of cream sherry, and I hadn’t the vaguest idea what glass to use, I decided, as I saw my withering wine confidence dribble down the drain, to get to the bottom of this wine barrel. I called Gabe Geller, top sommelier at Royal Wine Corp, a 150-year-old producer, importer and exporter of wines and spirits, based in Bayonne, New Jersey, who agreed to field my cask of questions.
“How many types of wine glasses do I need so I don’t seem like a philistine?” I wanted to know. “And what’s with all the shapes anyway?”
“The world of wine glasses can seem intimidating,” said Geller. “You can find a different glass for every type of wine. It’s a bit of a marketing schtick. Realistically, one good universal wine glass is perfectly suitable for anything, from your summer afternoon white to your complex heavy red.”
“Thank you!” I said.
Though Geller appreciates the research and testing that go into the different wine-glass shapes, he concedes, only the effete few will notice or care. “And if your friends are judging you by your stemware, you need new friends.”
“Cheers to that!”
“Moreover, most people don’t have the room or budget for a variety of shapes and sizes, so having that many different glasses is not only expensive, but also impractical,” said Geller, who himself – because of course I asked – has only four shapes of wine glasses at his house: two for reds, one for whites, and one for champagne, which seems eminently reasonable.
“I want to demystify the wine glass so people can spend more time enjoying their wine and less time worrying about the vessel.”
“Me, too!” I added.
In keeping with my buy it once, buy it right motto, I asked for more specifics about this one-size-fits-all wine glass. Here’s what Geller said to look for:
- The just-right size. The universal wine glass, says Geller, should hold 13 ounces. If a glass is too big, you lose some aroma. If it’s too narrow, it won’t capture the bouquet. A 13-ounce glass leaves enough “nose room” for a 4-to-6-ounce pour. (That’s a serving, my friends. You’re not supposed to fill it up.)
- A pear shape. The perfect, all-around glass should be broader at the base than the rim. “The bowl shape brings out the aromas, which get diffused then brought together as the glass narrows,” said Geller. “Smelling the wine is the most important part of tasting wine. If you lose on the aroma, you lose on the taste as well. “
- Pick stems. Though stemless wine glasses have become trendy, avoid them. Glasses without stems force you to hold the bowl, which leaves fingerprints, so you can’t see the wine as well, and warms the wine, which you want to keep at serving temperature.
- Keep it simple. Although colored and etched glasses might look nice from a design perspective, they will take away from the appearance of the wine, which you want to see to appreciate, said Geller. Keep glasses clear.
- Make that crystal clear. As long as you’re buying only one set, splurge on crystal. To be considered crystal, glass must have at least 24 percent lead content, which allows it to be thinner and clearer. “A thick glass will take away from the experience,” said Geller. One way to determine if a glass is crystal is to gently tap it with a metal spoon. If you hear a long, high-pitched ping, it’s crystal. A short-lived clunk indicates glass.
- Avoid speed bumps. A good wine glass will have a very thin lip; cheaper ones have thick rims, or a bump around the edge that impedes flow.
- Wine glass 2.0. Though a one-size-fits-all glass is perfectly acceptable, those who have the room or interest, and want to expand their stemware collection could consider a set of glasses for red wine, a set for white, and a set for sparkling wine. “It’s all about surface area. Red wines have tannins and need to open up and breathe. A broader bowl provides more surface area for that,” said Geller. White wines don’t need to breathe as much, and are served chilled, so the bowl of a white wine glass can be narrower, and the glass itself smaller, in the 10-ounce range. A narrower glass with slightly straighter sides helps white wine stay cooler. White wine glasses work for rosés, too. Tall, narrow glasses, or flutes, are ideal when pouring sparkling wine or champagne. Their slender shape “keeps the bubbly bubblier.”
CAPTION: Raise your glass: Though specialty wine-glass makers sell glasses for every varietal, one universal wine glass is all you really need, said Royal Wine’s top sommelier Gabe Geller. Photo courtesy of Royal Wine Corp.