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Put on some New Glasses for the Holidays

by Jim Clarke
November 2004

t’s the time of year when everyone’s raising their glasses to make toasts, and the shape of those glasses is becoming more and more varied. A large chunk of the pleasure in wine comes from its aromas; many of today’s glasses cater to the aromas of a particular varietal or style of wine. For example, a glass for aromatic Red Burgundies is fatter than a Bordeaux glass; greater surface area in the wide glass gives more play to the aromas. A narrower glass would overly intensify the nose of the wine and obscure some of its complexity. However, a Bordeaux, being generally less overt on the nose, often profits from the concentration a slimmer glass provides.

Claus Riedel brought these ideas to the marketplace about 30 years ago. He passed away this year, but the family company, which has been making crystal glasses for 11 generations, continues to lead in the field. In 2004 the Austrian firm consolidated their dominance by buying out their closest competitor, F.X. Nachtmann, best know for the Spiegelau brand. These two companies produce a large number of lines that cater to diverse visual aesthetics while following the basic principles of varietal-specific glasses.

Riedel also cut their own legs out from under them during the past year. Claus’s grandson, Maximilian, wanted to offer a line that suited younger, apartment-dwelling wine drinkers by offering a less delicate glass that took up less room. His solution was to cut off the stems from their traditional glasses and flatten the base of the bowl just enough to keep it upright; in tribute to its unusual, round appearance, they called the series “O.” Think of them as contacts instead of spectacles – no frames.

I love these glasses. I live in a small New York apartment, crowded with books, wine cellars, and candlemaking equipment (courtesy of my roommate). Stemware lives in my apartment like wild animals in a cage: it’s bad for their health. I have a set, of course, but almost all of my home wine-drinking is on the couch or in front of the computer, not at the dining room table; there are too many opportunities for me to destroy my tall stemware. Traditional glasses follow the “bigger-they-come, harder-they-fall” rule, while the low center of gravity saves the “O” glasses from death-by-being-knocked-over (they still don’t do well with heights, of course). Because of the bowl shape the varietal-specific qualities of each glass remain intact, as does the grace and style of an eye-pleasing design.

The “O” glasses also store well, because they’re stackable, which is important when you’re low on space. The biggest downside of the “O” series is getting your fingerprints all over the bowl; if it really bothers you, I suggest gloves.

Another new product this year comes from the German company Eisch. To complement their fine range of wineglasses, the company has developed a decanter that absolutely refuses to drip. Inspired by the way a lotus leaf sheds water, the “No Drop Effect” decanter has a specially treated rim; after pouring, a bead of wine teases you by balancing the decanter’s lip, steadfastly refusing to fall on the tablecloth (or couch, in my case). But it doesn’t fall, nor does it drip down the edge of the decanter. Eisch makes both round, “flying saucer” and “duck” models; the former is elegant, svelte, and modern, while the latter can be easier to handle and takes up less space on the table.

Finally, if you like to bring wine with you when camping but don’t like giving up on stemware, go get a set of GSI’s Lexan wine glasses. The Lexan plastic has more of the shine and look of glass than any other plastics I’ve seen, and much less of the obvious synthetic aromas that are an unwelcome addition to wine. It only comes in one shape, but the unscrewable base fits into the bowl for easy packing, either in your backpack or a Christmas stocking.

Buying guide to glass shapes: These five shapes cover most of the more usual varietals. If you have the budget and room for more glasses there are shapes that cater to individual varietals more specifically (pictures shown include glasses from Eisch’s Vin Nobile and Jeunesse lines).

This larger glass is great for most big reds:
Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz, Bordeaux, Malbec, etc.

Fatter glasses are great for more aromatic reds like Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.

A smaller glass with the same basic profile as the “big red” glass is suitable for most dry white wines.

The classic Champagne flute for sparkling wines. Avoid anything remotely like the old-fashioned coupe; it disperses both the aromas and the bubbles of your sparkling wine.

If you’re a fan of dessert wines, sherry, and the like, it’s worthwhile to invest in some smaller port glasses. Otherwise use your white wine glasses, but pour with a light hand.

Resources:
Riedel
Spiegelau
Eisch

GSI Lexan glasses are available at most camping outfitters