Every once in a while, at restaurants with award-winning wine lists like Las Vegas’ Aureole, Veritas in New York City, Paris’ Taillevent or the Glitretind at Stein Eriksen Lodge, I’ll see them. They are carrying small, odd-shaped attaché cases, about the size of bowling ball bags—the telltale sign of an unrepentant wine snob. These customers have brought their own wineglasses into the restaurant.
Why would someone do that? Well, it’s because when it comes to drinking wine, glasses do make a difference. To some folks, they make a big difference. These are the people who only drink wine out of expensive, specialty glasses—even in restaurants.
I never paid much attention to wineglasses until I attended a Riedel wine-tasting seminar seven or eight years ago at Snowbird’s WinterFeast. It was sponsored and conducted by Riedel, an Austrian company that’s been producing fine stemware for 10 generations. The seminar was part sales pitch and part science, and I was skeptical.
To make a long story short, I’m a Riedel convert. Glasses really do matter when you’re drinking wine. Or at least, when you’re paying attention to the wine you’re drinking.
If you read last week’s Grapevine column about decanting, you know that air is wine’s friend. At least in the short term, most wine benefits from a period of aeration. That can happen in a decanter, but the simplest and easiest way to expose wine to air is in the glass. Providing, that is, that you have the right sort of glass.
Wineglasses in 95 percent of the restaurants I eat in are too small. If there’s a rule of thumb when buying wineglasses, it’s GO BIG. That’s not so you can drink large portions of wine, but so you can pour a decent-sized portion of wine—three to five ounces—without filling up the glass.
You know all the swishing and swirling that you see wine geeks do with their wine? That’s not just a nervous twitch. What they are doing is getting some air into it. Aerating most wine helps to bring out the flavors and aromas of those wines. Unfortunately, most restaurants use small, cheap wineglasses called “jokers” and then fill them to the brim.
Ideally, a wineglass should be able to hold 12 ounces or more. That’s not because you’re going to fill the glass with 12 ounces of wine, but so you’ll have plenty of room for the wine to breathe and to swish and swirl. If you’ve never drunk from a glass like that, it’ll seem huge and unwieldy at first. But, just like you got used to drinking from those silly Margarita glasses in Mexican restaurants, you’ll get used to drinking out of large wineglasses, too.
And while some companies like Riedel, Schott, Lenox and Baccarat make individual glasses designed for specific wines (there are some 25 different wineglasses in Riedel’s “Sommelier” series, for example), the most important thing is to choose wineglasses that have large bowls. While it’s nice to have a very large glass for Bordeaux and a smaller glass for Chardonnay, if I could only afford one all-purpose wineglass, I’d err on the side of largeness. The exception is with champagne glasses, because with champagne you’d prefer to not aerate the wine and lose all those magnificent bubbles.
The bottom line is that good wineglasses (which don’t necessarily have to be expensive) will change the way your wine tastes. It won’t make bad wine better, but a good glass will enhance and magnify the properties of wine that the winemaker worked so hard to create. So why spend $50 on a bottle of wine and drink it from a cheap glass?