After spending eight hours blind-tasting wine in 33 different glasses with a professional winemaker, we think the best wine glass for casual drinking is the Riedel Ouverture Magnum (available in a set of eight). We considered more than 130 glasses before making our decision, and the Ouverture Magnum is a workhorse, able to bring out the best in whatever wine you put in it while maintaining classic good looks and standing up to daily wear and tear. Dishwasher-safe and shatter-resistant, it outperforms glasses three times the price.
The best glass for any casual drinker is the Riedel Ouverture Magnum, which can perform the job of many different glasses, showcasing red, white, bubbly, and even spirits equally well. The round, 18⅝-ounce tapered bowl is the perfect shape and size for swirling, according to our experts. The lip is thin and fine as well, and there are no craftsmanship flaws to be found.
It’s a practical glass—the shorter, 3-inch stem makes it easy to fit under low cabinet shelves, and hard to tip with an errant elbow on the table or near the kitchen sink. It’s made of non-leaded crystal, which means that the manufacturing process mixed the glass with an additive (just as with high-quality leaded crystal) that makes it finer and more durable. Plus, it’s dishwasher-safe and inexpensive, so if you do break one, you can easily replace it. This combination of versatility and practicality has earned it endorsements from sommeliers and wine enthusiasts throughout the culinary world.
If you want separate glasses for red and white wine, if you’re looking for a glass that’s more elegant than the Ouverture, or if you’re ready to get serious about the complexities of the wine you’re drinking, Riedel Vinum glassware stood out from our field of 33 glasses as the best for showcasing wine flavor and aroma. You probably don’t want to set these out for rowdy drinkers, and you probably don’t need them if your most expensive bottle of wine tops out at $15. But the leaded-crystal glass opens wine better than the texture of non-leaded crystal, and it can be pulled thinner and finer during the manufacturing process to create tall and elegant shapes. The Vinum glasses are available in 11 styles for wine, but if you’re not sure where to start, our expert Belinda Chang recommends starting with the Vinum Cabernet/Merlot glass for red wine and the Vinum Sauvignon Blanc glass for white.
Crate and Barrel’s Viv Big Red Wine Glass and Viv White Wine Glass won’t help to make your wine taste good. But if you don’t really care about that, these inexpensive, well-balanced designs look great on a table and have a thinner glass than other options in this price range.
At 20 ounces, the bowl of the Big Red is 1 ounce larger in capacity than that of our top pick, and the upright-egg shape of the Big Red is nearly identical to the design of the Ouverture Magnum as well, which means this glass won’t feel like it’s going to tip over in your hand when you pick it up. Both the Big Red and White sizes are also available in sets of eight.
My first restaurant book, Bixology: Cocktails, Culture, and a Guide to the Good Life, was published in 2009. I worked full time as a wine-tasting room associate for three years before switching to stomping grapes and cleaning barrels in the cellar. I have sommelier training from the Culinary Institute at Greystone in Napa, California, and on occasion I still pour wine in Sonoma County, where I live.
Our blind-taster Jeff Cohn has been making 90+ point wine for 20 years, first as head winemaker at Rosenblum Cellars and later at Jeff Cohn Cellars, his own high-end label. He can taste proficiently through 40 barrels of wine and still keep it together, and he does so on a regular basis.
If you drink wine, yes, wine glasses are important. Even if you down some Franzia from a mug just once a week, a dedicated glass will make the ritual better. If you already own glasses but want to experience more of what your wine has to offer, the texture of leaded crystal can do that: It enhances the palate, brings out the aromas of different types of wine, and sparkles in dinner light.
Don’t hold back because you think you won’t notice anything. Get nerdy—do a side-by-side smell test. Pour some wine into a regular drinking glass and then into any of our recommendations. You will be able to tell the difference. Will you unearth the terroir of a $7 bottle from Trader Joe’s? Eh. But the smell will develop complexity, the fruit flavors will become more vibrant (and can even change over time) as the wine gets exposure to oxygen, and you will have fun holding the glass and toasting with it, creating that shared moment of triumph between you and your friends. That’s why we put $4 shots of vodka into $10 martini glasses all the time.
Even after going through those criteria, we still had hundreds of glasses to consider. We then dismissed the following kinds of specialized or hard-to-replace glasses:
We built a spreadsheet listing our remaining options, including glasses from Bormioli, Nachtmann, Riedel, Schott Zwiesel, and Spiegelau. We then reviewed people’s favorite glasses on Amazon and chose 33 to test. We picked a variety of shapes and styles, including a design with a lip that flutes out at the top similar to this one, globes, in-vogue shouldered shapes, and a “spaceship” (not a technical term; this is a glass that’s broad and squat in the middle, much like a flying saucer).
We tossed in some some basics too, namely restaurant glass from Libbey and Luminarc, a $2 glass from IKEA, and some popular styles from Crate and Barrel, whose glassware gets nods from both Wine Spectator and Apartment Therapy.
I washed the 33 glasses we chose for testing (plus doubles that we had for separate white wine sampling) in an industrial dishwasher and then polished them, after which Jeff Cohn, owner and head winemaker at Jeff Cohn Cellars, performed an eight-hour blind tasting, thoughtfully reviewing and eliminating options in brackets.
We covered the maker’s etching on the base of each glass and didn’t reveal any of the eight types of wine we sampled, which ranged from very acidic Vinho Verde to Cohn’s own Impostor blend (which he could identify just by the color). We had merlot, pinot noir, syrah, chardonnay, and even a bottle of Two Buck Chuck in there. By pouring different styles of wine, we hoped to quickly narrow the choice down to a glass that handled all types of wine better than others.
But that didn’t really happen. Cohn took more than 16 pages of notes. Often, as in the case of a pinot noir glass set aside early on, he wrote a detailed explanation as to why it couldn’t be the top pick but might be good for something else. After seven hours of drinking, when we’d formed our final bracket, the top group included a glass that made wine taste good but felt too fragile. It included a glass that made one specific type of wine taste spectacular but other types less so. It included a glass that seemed practical in every way but lacked the wow factor. And it included one of our final recommendations—but as our testing revealed, choosing required a little more thought beyond blind tasting.
During our tasting panel, the Riedel Ouverture Magnum didn’t rank among the final four. Our professional winemaker, Jeff Cohn, set it aside halfway through—he recognized it, even with the markings disguised, and he wanted to see if he could find something better.
When we spoke about it later, his notes merely read “simple” and “easy,” which we agreed was spot-on for a glass that has no specialty. “Is it the best for everything? No,” he said. “But does everything show well in it? Yes.” After drinking and evaluating wine from the three dozen glasses I put in front of him, he chose this glass as his top recommendation.
Part of the reason is the shape of the bowl, which doesn’t do anything fancy. It doesn’t flute, flare, or squat; it’s neither restrictive nor generous. The 18⅝-ounce size sits right in the middle, narrow enough to keep white wine crisp and acidic for a reasonable amount of time yet big enough to swirl open a few ounces of rich red. And it has the desired convex-to-concave shape that Belinda Chang told us was so important for directing flavor and preserving aromas.
If you don’t have that tapered top, Cohn said, “when wine comes out of the glass, it’s forced in different places without any focus: your sweet spot, your salty spot, your bitter spot—it’s just all at once.” He’s referring to the “tongue map,” the (sometimes disputed) idea that we taste different things with more intensity on different parts of our tongue. If you’re using a varietal-specific glass or a glass with a thinner lip, the maker of the glass has taken this idea into consideration—the design should direct the wine to the appropriate part of your mouth to make the wine taste as balanced as possible.
Our testing also confirmed that nontapered glasses such as the flared Riedel Vivant Burgundy made smelling wine aromas difficult. This style of glass might work great with specific wines, but with our tapered pick, Cohn said, “when you put your nose in, you can really smell it.”
Chang also noted that this glass can even stand in for snifters or other specialty glassware if you want it to. “The Magnum Ouverture is rad for everything,” she said. “I drink cognac out of them.”
Taste aside, do your dinners get rowdy? Among wine glasses, the Ouverture Magnum is quite durable, and this is another reason we believe it’s a better option than glasses that got high marks in our taste test, such as the Nachtmann Vivendi, an inexpensive crystal glass that’s a former recommendation of ours. Over time the price of the Nachtmann Vivendi has risen, and it’s a fragile glass—these two factors combined were enough to make us consider other budget-friendly options.
If you do break one, the Ouverture Magnum is widely available, unlike a lot of Schott Zwiesel models, which become hard to find if Sur La Table stops carrying them. And the Ouverture Magnum is crazy cheap: At the time of publishing, it was less expensive than 27 of the 33 glasses we blind-tested, bested in performance only by varietal-specific leaded-crystal glassware. And if you spend less, the quality doesn’t just go down—it plummets, as we saw in the IKEA HEDERLIG and in Luminarc’s heavy tempered glass and fat lips.
If one day you want to upgrade to finer glassware, the Ouverture Magnum will remain something you can use on a daily basis, such as for a casual drink while you cook, for water service on the table, or for outdoor dining.
Who else likes it? Tim Fish, senior editor at Wine Spectator, confirms Riedel’s status as a “highly regarded company” in this roundup of wine glasses appropriate for a first-time buyer. The Kitchn cites Riedel as one of its “firm favorite brands” that are “highly respected and have stood the test of time.” Good Housekeeping is a fan too, as evidenced in the subtly titled article “Riedel Wine Glasses – The Best Wine Glasses.”
And if you visit Riedel’s own website, you’ll find a quote from Robert Parker Jr., founder of The Wine Advocate: “The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel. The effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make.” It’s hard to overstate the influence of Parker, who is “widely regarded as the world’s most powerful wine critic,” according to The Wall Street Journal, or just flat out “the world’s most famous wine critic.”
Some people dislike the length of the Ouverture Magnum’s stem. According to one Amazon reviewer, the stem isn’t long enough “to comfortably grasp it under the wide bowl even though I’m a 5’3″ female with small hands.” And on a previous version of this guide, a reader left a comment that others have upvoted multiple times: “That is a short, stubby, ugly wine glass.”
I buy gloves in men’s large, so I have big hands. On the Ouverture Magnum my knuckle touches the very bottom of the bowl, but that happens on every wine glass I hold. When I read the Amazon review, I wondered whether the writer was trying to get her hand completely clear of the bowl on top. Doing so would be difficult with so little room to work with. Bracing the bottom of the bowl for balance won’t hurt anything—grasping a glass “by the stem” doesn’t mean you have to apply a death grip to the thin stem of a top-heavy bowl of liquid between your thumb and index finger all night.
The Ouverture Magnum definitely looks different from a glass with a long, lean, delicate stem. The shorter stem makes it less prone to getting knocked over, though, one reason why it’s so practical. If it doesn’t sound like your style, and if you want a longer stem for a more refined table setting, check out the Riedel Vinum series (or anything you like, if you’re not worried about taste but aesthetics are a concern).
After an additional six months of use, we stand by the Riedel Ouverture Magnum as our favorite all-purpose wine glass. We’ve broken three other types of wine glasses in that time (some of which were extremely expensive), yet not a single Ouverture has snapped or shattered. We’re convinced more than ever that our pick’s shorter stem is key in preventing accidental breakage, and that unless you’re a collector or connossieur, $10 or less is the right amount to spend. Losing a $40 to $60 glass is heartbreaking.
If you want to showcase your wine at its absolute best, the one-size-fits-all approach of the Ouverture Magnum is not ideal. You need a series of glasses that can specialize, and the leaded-crystal Riedel Vinum series beat all comers in our blind tasting with 33 glasses. (And the Vinum Cuvee Prestige is our pick for Champagne flutes.) The Vinum series is made of leaded crystal, which more effectively draws out complexities in wine and refracts light better than non-leaded glassware. The stem of the Vinum Cabernet/Merlot glass is 1 inch longer than that of the Ouverture Magnum, making this glass a better candidate for an elegant table setting.
The idea behind separate glasses is that they can enhance or flatten out various characteristics of the wine you’re drinking. The concept is similar to dressing yourself: Some clothes look great on you and some look terrible because different cuts of clothing balance the proportions of your body differently. With grapes, some are really tannic and some are really acidic. There’s nothing wrong with either kind of grape, but different glasses can reduce your perception of bitter tannins (or enhance it, in the case of a wine that has few tannins, such as pinot) or draw out faint aromas (such as from minerals like shale or limestone, which can be difficult to smell). For an idea of what some of the different shapes look like, check out this chart.
Wine-glass makers can pull leaded crystal thinner than regular old glass, which results in flawless bowls and stems, thin rims, and delicate craftsmanship. And leaded crystal is also more refractive—that is, super sparkly. Wine looks incredible in sparkling glassware. (For more specific info on the difference between crystal and glass, take a look at this article.)
Regarding the toxicity of leaded glassware, articles in The New York Times and Wine Spectator indicate that leaded crystal is safe to drink from. We also followed up with our in-house science editor, Leigh Krietsch Boerner, who owns a PhD in chemistry, and she confirmed through research that the only potential danger with leaded crystal crops up if you store your booze in it. That gives the lead time to leach into the liquid, so perhaps you should pass on leaded-crystal decanters.
In contrast, the short amount of time a few ounces of wine spends in contact with a glass isn’t enough for a significant amount of lead to leach from the product. We know it might sound silly to allow any amount of lead into your wine, but toxicity is directly related to dose, not necessarily to the compound you’re ingesting. That’s why you can eat the cyanide in an apple, and it won’t hurt you.
We sorted through hundreds of glasses for this guide, and in that time a clear pattern emerged––the less expensive the glass, the thicker the bowl and stem become. If you plan to sling a batch of frozen margaritas, the thicker and more cactus-shaped your glasses are, the better, but wine doesn’t feel right sipped from such bulky vessels.
And that’s what makes the Viv series from Crate and Barrel special. These glasses can’t make your wine taste better. But each style in this inexpensive series has delicate, thinly pulled glass walls and a thin lip, a rarity in this price range.
In fact, nothing that costs less than our main pick, the Ouverture Magnum, made wine taste better in our taste test. According to Cohn, the Luminarc Cachet White Wine made “everything feel soft and sweet” on the palate (that’s not good). The Threshold Red Wine from Target was “just flat—both aromatically and on the palate.” We didn’t have any of the Viv glasses in our blind-tasting lineup, so Cohn didn’t get a chance to weigh in on how they perform. But that isn’t a big deal, because after tasting through 30 other options, we know this isn’t the type of glass you buy for fine wine. This is just the type of glass that looks great on a table and happens to do so better than any other model in the same price range. Cohn did sample from two other Crate and Barrel shapes, the Gus and the Hip, neither of which brought out the best qualities in our wines.
In other regards, we’ve put the Viv design through all of its paces, examining it for quality and confirming that it’s better proportioned than other Crate and Barrel options such as the Oregon series. The Viv Champagne flute is also our budget recommendation for entertaining, so this series consistently combines the right price and proportion.
And other people have noticed Crate and Barrel’s offerings, too. Tim Fish at Wine Spectator has cited other Crate and Barrel options as “sturdy but not clunky,” and Apartment Therapy rounds up a lot of Crate and Barrel styles in its Budget Basics glass guide.
A lot of the glass that manufacturers use to create stemware is fortified with a substance that makes it sturdier and more refractive. The Ouverture Magnum is fortified with magnesium, and the Riedel Vinum series is mixed with lead. Schott Zwiesel is famous for fortifying its glassware with titanium, which is both very light and sturdy. The Viv designs aren’t fortified with anything—they’re just your standard glass—so they’re a little more prone to shattering.
On occasion you may get a glass that has a flaw, such as a warped bowl or stem, but that’s the trade-off with inexpensive glassware that is also very thin. While we were researching our Champagne guide, we received a Viv flute with a misshapen bowl. We were able to return it with no hassle, and the replacement glass had no design issues.
You can find cheap glasses, like the IKEA HEDERLIG, that can skirt the issue because they’re so much thicker. But they’re clunky and not as fun to drink from. The occasional flaws on the Crate and Barrel glassware aren’t problematic, they’re just something to be aware of. So if your goal is to put together a beautiful tabletop, we think you should roll the dice and go with the Viv line, or any glass you love that’s $8 or less. Once you spend that much, that’s about the same price as our top pick, which can both make your wine taste good and look nice, something cheaper stemware can’t do.
Our top four winning glasses were:
All quotations from here down are from Jeff Cohn’s notes and commentary during our blind taste test.
Vivant Burgundy (lead-free crystal): This glass tapers outward at the top. “The smell is just everywhere when they taper out like that.”
Vivant Red Wine (lead-free crystal): Great nose, but the wine tasted “narrow and tannic.”
Vivant Pinot Noir (lead-free crystal): “It really works on the nose, but on the palate it’s just pure tannin.” That’s a good thing if you’re drinking a pinot, as traditionally they are not very tannic wines and this glass will help enhance them. So that makes this piece a nice pinot glass, but not a great all-purpose glass.
Spiegelau (owned by Riedel)
Vino Grande White Wine (lead-free crystal): This glass had trouble with riesling, bringing out too much of the petrol taste and shorting the finish.
Cru Classic Red Wine (lead-free crystal): Cohn sat at the bar and stared at this glass for 10 minutes. “I tried it a million times,” he said. “I just kept saying, ‘Hopefully, I’m gonna like it!’” But he didn’t, ultimately calling the wine “balanced, but empty.”
Cru Classic Chardonnay (lead-free crystal): The wine got “lost on the palate” and had “no direction.”
Forte Claret (lead-free crystal): This was another glass Cohn wanted to like but couldn’t. “All it does is concentrate the wine, in the aromatics, but not in a positive way. It brings out green components in it.” Green components, like the aromas of green pepper, are often prized in varietals such as cabernet sauvignon. But he was tasting a zinfandel, which should smell more like raspberry and pepper, so accentuating the green aromas was a flaw in this case.
Forte White Wine (lead-free crystal): “Boring” and “doesn’t let the aromatics come out at all.”
Pure Sauvignon Blanc (lead-free crystal): This glass was “all petrol and not much fruit and mineral” when tasted with the riesling. “Not balanced,” Cohn said.
Crate and Barrel
Gus (glass): “Got totally lost on the palate, totally lost on the nose, and the damn glass weighs a ton.”
Hip (glass): “Harsh all across.”
Atelier Pinot Noir (glass): “Does nothing for this wine, nothing for the nose. Nothing. No go.”
Riesling (glass): The wine felt “diluted” in this glass.
Threshold Red Wine (glass): “Just flat—both aromatically and on the palate.”
Cachet Red Wine (glass): Cohn eliminated this thick-rimmed globe glass in round one. “Wow. That is just horrible,” he said. “That glass should be shot and put out of its misery.”
Cachet White Wine (glass): This glass fared better than its red-wine sibling, with an improved nose, but “on the palate it makes everything feel soft and sweet.”
HEDERLIG Red Wine (glass): Cohn found the taste “all over the place,” with “absolutely no focus on the nose and palate.” The white wine option (glass) did well with more-acidic wine, but not with others. The heaviness of the glass put both styles out of the running. “I don’t think I could go through a whole meal with this glass in my hand, I’d get carpal tunnel,” Cohn said.
We set aside the Riedel Grape and Vitis series due to shape. They have vanishing-point bowls—the bowl at the bottom comes to a small point. The design looks pretty and can help to focus bubble streams in Champagne flutes, but cleaning gunk out of those points is hard.
We chose to test Bormioli’s Atelier series to represent the brand. We did not test other well-reviewed models from the company, such as the all-purpose glass, Rocco, Magnifico, Allegro, Super Red, and Crescendo. The inAlto Uno collection offers basic tabletop glasses in a fun shape, and we evaluated them over the course of dinner. As with the Schott Pure collection, the wide bowl shape makes them tipsy when full. We’d still choose the form and function of the Ouverture Magnums.
We went to a Crate and Barrel store and looked at every line available. We selected glasses that didn’t look like they’d topple—a lot of the retailer’s designs are tall and skinny.
We also went to IKEA and looked at all the stemware. The HEDERLIG was the only glass with an appropriate shape and size.
The Iittala has the same design as the Schott Zwiesel Pure (which we tested) but costs more.
Lenox Tuscany Classics glasses have no advantage over Ouverture Magnums and are a little more expensive.
Stolzle glasses look nice sitting on restaurant tables but are no competition for our top choices.
We’re going to add a pick for luxury glassware soon. We still have more research to do, but we know we’ll be tasting with glasses from the Riedel Superleggero, Riedel Veritas, and Zalto collections.
In addition, a line of stemware from a company called Snowe has launched. The glasses retail for $20 each, and we’re not sure whether that price makes them competitive with our top choices, but we’ll take a look and see what they have to offer.
You’re guaranteed to snap the stem if you polish your glass by holding the base in one hand and twisting the polishing cloth around the rim of the bowl at the top, like this. Do not do what the waiter in the video is doing! He is polishing a glass thick enough for restaurant service, but if you do this to your crystal, you will torque the stem and break it. Instead, while polishing, hold the glass by the bowl to avoid twisting it apart—skip to 1:05 in this video to see the proper technique.
Riedel mentions the following additional care notes on its website:
(Photos by Eve O’Neill.)
Originally published: November 20, 2015