Behind the Glass: A Guide to the Best Stemware

Behind the Glass: A Guide to the Best Stemware

Jeremy_Bentham_by_Henry_William_Pickersgill_detailI am a utilitarian, following in the footsteps of the wise Jeremy Bentham (photo right). I care about getting my money’s worth, regardless of what I purchase. So when I decided it was time to upgrade my stemware, I used the same basic criteria I always use: 1) durability, 2) versatility, and 3) value.

When I started my research, however, I quickly realized that utilizing the same approach would be challenging. Such practical considerations don’t really have anything to do drinking wine, which is about perception, clarity, and immediacy. The glass is supposed to bring you as close to the wine as possible without getting in the way – hence the predominance of the delicate, finely-blown crystal stemware favored by professionals.

Fortunately, I stumbled across many helpful resources, including one by Mary Gorman-McAdams, MW on thektchn.com (which happens to also be one of my favorite places for recipes). Mary came to my rescue with a list of recommendations that helped me align my criteria with my desire for a pure tasting experience.

Here is my evaluation of stemware options:

Durability:

imagesI’m sort of a tortured genius of washing dishes: my approach is characterized by dark moods in which I refuse to touch the sponge, punctuated by manic – and haphazard – periods of frenzied activity.  So it is important for my wine glasses to be able to withstand a certain amount of (totally human) neglect, as well as the occasional bit of careless handling.

So if durability is my main criteria, most kinds of crystal are out. Crystal will stain if not cleaned promptly after use, and it will also not stand the abrupt temperature changes of a hot dish water. Some brands claim their crystal stems can withstand dishwashers, but I would not risk it, especially when, at those prices, breaking a single glass would ruin my whole week.  Fortunately, Riedel makes a series of non-crystal, entry-level glasses in its Overture series. These glasses should withstand a rougher hand, and even if they do not, the lower price point wouldn’t leave me *quite* as heart-broken.

Versatility:

The reason I am wary of most varietal-specific wine glasses is the same reason I balk at garlic peelers and Panini presses: I hate having tools that serve only one purpose, especially in an apartment as small as mine.

Cool Infographic courtesy of winefolly.com

So with cabinet space at a premium, it makes sense to opt for a more flexible design, rather than a full set of the bewildering variety of specialized stemware.

Notable in this category is the Zalto Denk.Art Universal glass. Mouth-blown from lead-free crystal, and with a distinctive, angular bowl, these glasses really stand out. And they are designed with versatility in mind. Rather than a range of specific glass shapes, the Zalto Universal is, just as it sounds, one glass for one purpose: to drink whatever wine you feel like.

Value:

Now, promise you won’t laugh…but I get an excellent value out of my current glass. Yes, that’s right, a beer glass. But with a stout stem, a broad base, and a wide-yet-fine glass bowl, this glass is sturdy, hard to knock over, displays color well, and provides an excellent bouquet. To be honest, I use it for everything: water, beer, wine, & spirits.

But when you take into consideration the advice of Maximillian Riedel to “Spend approx. the same amount of money per glass than you do on your bottle of wine,” you can see why I am probably due for an upgrade. Of course, this may also be the best sales pitch I have ever heard.

But seriously, I think my pick for best value might have to go to Spiegelau (the somewhat hilariously daubed ‘Class of Glass’). I am currently in love with their Authentis range which, apart from being very fine, is also stylish as all get out. And at about $40 for four glasses, the price point is hard to beat – though the Zwiesel glasses are close, especially if their proprietary crystal is as durable as they claim…

Do you have a favorite glass? What did you consider when buying new ones (for yourself or friends)?

One Response to Behind the Glass: A Guide to the Best Stemware

  1. Allan says:

    You have inspired me to pick up some of those New Belgium globe glasses
    I prefer Belgian style ales and I am often frustrated by my lack of appropriate glassware
    Those beers can be damn expensive. Seems a shame not to use the right glass.

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