The Best Wine Glass
If you’re looking for a workhorse wine glass for everyday use, able to showcase both red and white wine, we recommend the Riedel Ouverture Magnum, which is reliable, versatile, and highly regarded by wine experts. If you’re looking for something a little more elegant, but less versatile, we like the Nachtmann Vivendi Bordeaux Glass.
How we picked
To get a better idea of what to look for in a great wine glass, I spoke with Napa Valley tasting room managers, James Beard Award winners, a Moët-Hennessy Champagne educator, and one of Food & Wine’s 2013 sommeliers of the year, all of whom recommended Riedel—often this glass, specifically.
For example, with Riedel, I ruled out their stemless glassware or limited editions, which left six main options: Sommeliers, Vitis, Vinum, Wine, Grape, and Ouverture. I began by eliminating the ultra high-end options; the Sommeliers glasses start at around $80 a glass, so they’re gone. Then I eliminated anything decorative, which took out the Wine series. The Grape series has an altered shape—the bowl at the bottom comes to a small point. I’ve seen this referred to as a vanishing point bowl in only one place, but that seems like a workable description. It’s a feature that can be used to focus bubble streams in Champagne flutes. But it’s hard to clean, and we don’t want that, so I set Grape aside. The Vitis is meant to give a different look to a tabletop, and didn’t seem to offer anything the Vinum series didn’t. Which leaves Vinum and Ouverture. Ouverture is billed as Riedel’s “entry level” series because the glasses are practical and affordable. And the Vinum is what they call their “benchmark” series, with varietal-specific glasses. Did we want these? At this point, I wasn’t sure. Without a reason to rule it out, Vinum was included as well.
Most other companies break apart their offerings in a similar manner, so that’s the pattern by which I weeded through the options from various manufacturers. There’s a specialty glass, something decorative, lines that are tweaked for aesthetic design, and often something specifically for restaurants or high-volume use. I passed over those and was left with generalist glasses.
But there are also other brands besides what the experts recommend, so after going through the most highly recommended brands—Riedel (and the other companies they own, Spiegelau and Nachtmann) and Schott Zwiesel—I turned to Amazon to see what was most popular. Bormioli, Libbey, and Luminarc all had five-star reviews and satisfied customers.
Then I picked several different shapes. Was there a shape that was universally good for all grape types? Was a varietal-specific glass necessary? I made sure to include at least one glass with a lip that flutes out at the top similar to this one, along with globes, shouldered shapes, and something I refer to as the “spaceship” (not a technical term; it is very broad and squat in the middle, much like a flying saucer).
I called in or bought some of the more widely available models, such as the Riedel Vivant series and other Target brands. Looking at IKEA offerings seemed important—what if they happened to make really killer glassware? Had anyone ever looked? And of all of the houseware manufacturers out there, such as World Market, Pier 1, and Bed Bath & Beyond, Crate & Barrel glasses were recommended often, either by commenters or, in the case of the Oregon series, by Wine Spectator and Apartment Therapy. So I examined their offerings and chose a few I thought might show well.
When it was all over I had a total of 131 glasses to consider in my spreadsheet. And after eliminating most of them based on the criteria laid out above, I ended up with 33 glasses in hand for testing. They ranged in price from $1.99 to $30 and in size from eight ounces to 31 ounces.
I thought this test would lead us to one ultimate “best glass.” But I was wrong. What it did was lead us to a very fragile glass. There’s no way something like that is a better choice for most people than something more durable like the Riedel, nor are the other glasses whose brackets lasted longer than the Ouverture Magnum.
It’s worth noting that the Riedel wasn’t the last man standing after our eight-hour testing panel with winemaker Jeff Cohn, but that’s because Cohn set it aside halfway through—he already knew it was a good glass and wanted to see if he could find something better.
He didn’t. Jeff’s notes indicate the Ouverture Magnum is “simple” and “easy.” This seems like a spot-on analysis for a glass that is intended to showcase all types of wine. In fact, the Ouverture Magnum is Jeff’s personal recommendation as well. We spoke about it afterward: “Is it the best for everything? No. But does everything show well in it? Yes.” I asked him if he would still recommend the Ouverture even though it was bested by the Nachtmann Vivendi Bordeaux in our blind test. “Absolutely,” he confirmed. “Look, this glass, the Nachtmann…is a really nice glass. But in terms of what you’re looking for, the one glaring problem is…it’s not practical.”
And that’s exactly the issue. Magnum’s shorter stem is one feature that makes all the difference.
The glass on the left in the above photo is the Nachtmann Vivendi. The Magnum is on the right and looks visibly more balanced and stable, even in the photo. It’s less likely to tip if someone accidentally nudges it, less likely to shatter if it does fall over, and not going to be in as much danger when it’s perched in the bottom of a sink after dinner, which is exactly where you’re going to leave it. The lower profile will be a clear advantage the next morning as you’re reaching around dishes left on the counter to make coffee. In terms of the reality of everyday life, the Magnum is going to serve you better.
It’s worth noting that the bowl shape of these glasses is virtually identical; this very-gently-tapered egg shape seems to have what it takes to cater to the different demands of several varietals.
Belinda Chang is a Champagne educator for Moët-Hennessy and a James Beard Award-winning sommelier. When we asked her about the wine glasses, she said, “I’ve seen every kind of glass for anything that pretty much exists—high or low and anything in between. I think there’s one that is the be-all, end-all, best glass if you’re only going to buy one and, in fact, in my house that’s what I have—and I have access to pretty much anything. It’s their Ouverture Magnum glass. It doesn’t do any weird things with the lip; it doesn’t do anything crazy with accentuating tannins or anything like that. It’s just really well balanced, so that all styles of wines show nicely.”
Chang went on to explain that the Ouverture’s prowess extends beyond wine. In fact you can use it to serve distilled spirits, as opposed to having to buy a snifter or some other specialty glassware. “The Magnum Ouverture is rad for everything,” she stated.
“Yes, vodka. I drink Cognac out of them.”
So for around $10, you get a crystal glass that is dishwasher safe, better equipped to withstand the rigors of an at-home kitchen than anything else we’ve found, and shaped to showcase white wine, red wine, Champagne, and spirits equally well. It’s everything that we were looking for and I was unable to find any glass that could compete. And if one day you want to upgrade to a more expensive or different-shaped glass, the Ouverture remains a practical option for everyday use.
Who else likes it?
In the world of wine glasses, almost everyone you ask and anything you read will indicate that the number one brand name is Riedel. This New York Times article includes an excellent introduction to the Riedel dynasty: “In 1958, Mr. Riedel designed an iconic glass especially for red Burgundy—a huge, elegant, hand-blown goblet that emphasizes the fragrant complexity of the pinot noir grape. Its performance was revolutionary, its design beautiful; an example is displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.”
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 their “firm favorite brands” that are “highly respected and have stood the test of time.” Good Housekeeping is a fan, as stated in the subtly titled article, “Riedel Wine Glasses – The Best Wine Glasses.”
And if you visit Riedel’s own website, you’ll find front and center 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 Robert Parker, Jr., who is “widely regarded as the world’s most powerful wine critic,” according to the WSJ, or just flat out “the world’s most famous wine critic” depending on who you talk to. So this is quite a testimonial.
Amazon reviewers like them, too. Reviewer C. Pratt, whose testimony you’ll find at the top because it has been voted useful more than 160 times, wraps it up nicely: “I find myself returning to the Riedel Ouverture Magnum glasses again and again and again. For one, they’re big enough to allow for some mighty swirling without splashing wine all over yourself (which is embarrassing). They’re also durable enough to stand up to (ahem) drunken handling during boisterous dinner parties and/or hungover washing up the morning after. They’ve survived the dishwasher a couple of dozen times and still look good; they seem to do just fine with any kind of wine… In short, these are the glasses you’ll wind up using nearly every time you drink wine… Grab a set of these and get down to drinking. You won’t regret it.”
There were a few one- and two-star reviews, and the majority were due to breakage during shipping. However, there was an issue worth mentioning: the size of the stem. According to one reviewer, it’s not long enough “to comfortably grasp it under the wide bowl even though I’m a 5’3″ female with small hands.”
But I’m 5’8” and have giant man hands—I buy gloves in men’s large. My knuckle does touch the very bottom of the bowl, but not once in seven years of handling had this ever even occurred to me as a concern. I think the thing to be aware of is that yes, the stems are shorter, and they look a bit different than a glass with a long, lean, delicate stem.
Long-term test notes
I’ve continued to test the Riedels in the months since we posted our pick (the glasses I use are actually going on five years old), and they haven’t cracked or scratched or exhibited any other shady behavior — in spite of daily runs through my dishwasher. When I serve wine, friends often remark, “I should get a nice pair of wine glasses” when I stick this in their hand. I remain convinced they’re the best choice.
A more elegant (but less versatile) alternative
*At the time of publishing, the price was $36.
It didn’t win out over the Magnum because of practicality issues, diminished versatility, and because it just isn’t the tried-and-true heavyweight that the Magnum is. But it’s a very pretty glass, sparkly and deceptively lightweight, and it works fine. If you want to spend a little less—it’s crystal and costs about $8.75—and the prospect of easy breakage doesn’t faze you, then this is a good option. (Three different glasses broke when shipped to my apartment, and this was one of them. The Eisch Superior Sensis Plus came in pieces as well and so did the Bormioli Pinot Noir, despite DEFCON 1 levels of packaging.)
You should choose these if your main concern is making your tabletop look more elegant, which is a valid goal. The bowl on these is a touch bigger, the stems taller, and they strike a very elegant profile. I discovered them because they’re owned by Riedel, which clued me in to the craftsmanship. They also have some glowing feedback on Amazon. Claims one reviewer, “These glasses are amazing… the bowl of these will do nothing but enhance the aroma and flavor of your wine.” The one and only negative review is because they arrived broken and sounding like “1,000 pennies jingling together.” So, like we said, they’re fragile.
The step up
Basically, different glasses can enhance or flatten out the different characteristics of the wine you’re drinking. I find it similar to trying to dress yourself. Some clothes look great and some look terrible because different cuts of clothing balance your proportions differently. Same with grapes. Some are really tannic. Some are really acidic. There’s nothing wrong with the grape, but different glasses can reduce our perception of bitter tannins (or enhance it, in the case of a wine that has very few tannins, like Pinot) or draw out faint aromas (like different minerals such as 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.
We already knew Riedel glasses were our experts’ favorites. Then we confirmed a few things in our sensory evaluation of their quality. The crystal they’re made out of aerated the wine better than plain soda-lime glass. They consistently made wine taste better than the other top two brands we looked at. And of everything we had in front of us, the only glass that Jeff consistently loved was the Riedel Vinum Chardonnay glass (it was the only Vinum in the lineup). It’s not a good all-purpose choice (just a hair too small to really showcase a red), but it made it through every bracket without complaint. And though you don’t need it for everyday use, for the extra money, you do get finer quality: flawless bowls and stems, thin rims, lightweight and delicate craftsmanship.
To figure out which shape is right for you, I’d start by figuring out what you love to drink the most and invest in a glass for that varietal. Then do a side-by-side comparison: Pour a little wine in your Ouverture, then pour the same wine in your varietal-specific glass and let the wine open up for maybe ten minutes. Now smell and see how the aromas differ between glasses. Good times.
Who should buy this?
Whether you have had the best or worst day of your life, the day can almost always be improved with a glass of wine. If you are interested in wine as either a connoisseur or collector, you probably already have the varietal-specific glasses you need.
Are you ultra low-maintenance? If you have a glass now and then, but think stocking your kitchen with several shapes and sizes is overkill, the Ouvertures are a good choice. As we mentioned earlier, they can enhance the best qualities of anything you care to drink. In addition, the shorter stem lets them easily fit below shelves and the bowls are not so massive that they bogart all the cabinet space.
And if you like to host tasting parties and maybe don’t want to put your $30 crystal glasses on the table, these are a great investment and used in tasting rooms all over California. I spoke with Nick Rood, the tasting room manager at Vintner’s Collective in Napa, and he said, “The main reason we use them here is because they’re not designed for any one specific varietal, but what they do is showcase everything fairly well.”
Don’t hold back simply because you think you won’t notice how the wine will be affected. I’ve worked in two different tasting rooms over the course of four years as a tasting room associate and wine educator, and the one sentiment I’ve heard echoed over and over again is people’s lack of confidence in their own abilities. They are always positive that, as casual wine drinkers, they won’t be able to detect the difference (or enjoy the benefits) that a nice glass creates. False!
Are you going to unearth the nuanced notes of terroir on the palate of a $7 bottle? Eh. But is the aroma going to be enhanced? Absolutely. Will the wine aerate and open better? Yes. Will it be fun to hold in your hand and toast with, creating an intimate, shared moment of triumph between you and your guests? Definitely. The experience a wine glass creates can often transcend the practicality of its use, and besides, holding a great glass is fun—that’s why we put $4 shots of well vodka in $10 cocktail glasses all the time.
How we tested
I washed the glasses in the industrial dishwasher, polished them, and assigned each a number. The numbered sticker also served to hide any etched markings on the foot of the glass that might have given away the name of the manufacturer.
We poured the same type of wine into every glass and then eliminated the four we thought had the least potential. We then poured a second bottle—a different type of wine this time—and again talked through the pros and cons of every glass and set aside another bracket of four. We went through eight bottles of wine in total: a Pinot Noir (frankly, a glass that can’t make Pinot taste good has no real use), two of Jeff’s own wines (red blends), a Merlot, a bottle of Charles Shaw (the infamous “Two Buck Chuck”—a stab at seeing if a glass could make a difference in a notoriously cheap wine), a Roussanne/Marsanne blend, a Vinho Verde, and a Riesling.
By pouring different styles of wine, our hope was that we would end up with a glass that handled all types fairly well. And at the outset of the test, it was definitely my intention to systematically eliminate glasses until we were left with just one, or at least a top three or four, that we liked above all others.
But that just didn’t happen. Very often, as in the case of a Pinot Noir glass set aside early on, there was a detailed explanation for why it couldn’t be the top pick for our readers but might be good for a much more specific use case. And likewise, when we had formed our final bracket, we found we included a glass that was beautiful and that made wine taste good but was way too fragile to be our number one. It wasn’t the cut-and-dry experiment I had hoped, but it yielded different information that helped us make an informed decision.
Luminarc Cachet Red Wine: (glass, ≈$5.50) This is a thick-rimmed globe glass that Jeff eliminated in round one. “Wow. That is just horrible,” he said. “That glass should be shot and put out of its misery.”
The Luminarc Cachet White Wine (glass, ≈$3.30) fared a little better, with an improved nose, but “on the palate it makes everything feel soft and sweet.”
He found the Spiegelau Festival Bordeaux (lead-free crystal, $8) and the Festival White Wine (lead-free crystal, $8) “clunky.” Overall, their shape is good, but some aspects—particularly the thicker stem —make them inelegant, and the white wine palate “just doesn’t have any direction of where it wants to be.”
IKEA’s super-cheap Hederlig Red Wine (glass, $2) is made of soda-lime, not crystal, and Jeff found the taste “all over the place,” with “absolutely no focus on the nose and palate.” Their White Wine option (glass, $2) actually fared a lot better. It did well with more acidic wine, but not with others. And the heaviness of the glass ultimately did it in. “I don’t think I could go through a whole meal with this glass in my hand, I’d get carpal tunnel,” Jeff said.
The Riedel Vivant Burgundy (lead-free crystal, $15) tapers out—not in—at the top. During testing, Jeff handed it to the tasting room associate across the room. “Aaron, smell this. Do you smell anything in that glass?” Aaron responded: “Wow, I can stick my whole face in there. It’s awkward. I have some wine glasses like that at home and I hate it. [The smell is just] everywhere when they taper out like that.” There might be some specific wines this style would work great with, but it’s far too specific for an all-purpose glass. The Riedel Vivant Red Wine (lead-free crystal, $10) was likewise dismissed, with Jeff saying despite its great nose, the wine tasted “narrow and tannic.” The Riedel Vivant Pinot Noir Glass (lead-free crystal, $10) was fairly well-liked. We set it aside because “It really works on the nose, but on the palate it’s just pure tannin.” That is 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 a nice Pinot glass, but not a great all-purpose glass.
Jeff said the Crate & Barrel Gus (glass, $4) “got totally lost on the palate, totally lost on the nose, and the damn glass weighs a ton.” A bad combination, and not a good pick.
And Crate & Barrel’s giant Hip (glass, $7) was “harsh all across” and received mediocre reviews from users on the company’s website.
After using it in the third round, Jeff sat at the table staring at the Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic Red Wine (lead-free crystal, $15) for ten 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.” As for the Cru Classic Chardonnay (lead-free crystal, $15), he said the wine got “lost on the palate,” and had “no direction.”
The Schott Zwiesel Forte Claret (lead-free crystal, $10) is another glass he wanted to like but just couldn’t. Ultimately, after testing it with his blend The Impostor, a Zinfandel-based red of seven different varietals, he said, “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 aromas of green pepper, are often prized in varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon. But not Zinfandel, which is often characterized by raspberry and pepper. So this is not good. He found the companion Forte White Wine (non-lead crystal, $13) “boring,” and said, “It doesn’t let the aromatics come out at all.”
Target’s Threshold Red Wine (glass, $5.75) was “just flat—both aromatically and on the palate.”
The Spiegelau Vino Grande Bordeaux (lead-free crystal, $12.50) did well, making it to our final bracket of four glasses. It was just a little lackluster when put up against the Nachtmann, but interestingly, it fared the best against the Charles Shaw. “This makes the wine show best,” mentions Jeff. “It’s the only one that shows some sort of a balance for this wine. I’d say it’s more organized, but you know what, what a horrible description for a wine, ‘organized’. Nothing should… would you want someone you’re dating to describe you that way, ‘I really like her, she’s organized?’ God, no. It’s just not very romantic. Wine is supposed to be romantic.” The Spiegelau Vino Grande White Wine (lead-free crystal, $12.50) had trouble with the Riesling, bringing out too much of the petrol taste and shorting the finish.
The Schott Zwiesel Pure Burgundy (lead-free crystal, $16) made it to the final tasting, but Jeff finds this shape to be unwieldy and I would agree. This glass that we tested was from my own personal collection, and though it’s pretty, it’s awkward and kind of difficult to hang on to even when half full. Similar to the Spiegelau Vino, the Schott Zwiesel Pure Sauvignon Blanc (lead-free crystal, $16) was “all petrol and not much fruit and mineral” when tasted with the Riesling. “Not balanced,” Jeff said.
Bormioli’s Atelier Pinot Noir (glass, $11) “just does nothing for this wine, nothing for the nose. Nothing. No go.”
The Riedel Vinum Chardonnay (leaded crystal, $25) performed wonderfully on white wines. It’s not versatile enough to be what we’re looking for (we didn’t even pour red into it, it’s much too petite), and too pricey to make it a go-to, but we wanted to know how a more expensive glass would fare. It proved to have “good focus, nice mineral, and nice richness and roundness on the palate.”
As for the Bormioli Riesling (glass, $11), Jeff said it felt “diluted.”
Bormioli released its InAlto Uno collection in August 2014, and I evaluated them over the course of dinner. They share the same weaknesses as the Schott Pure collection. The stems are long and thin and no amount of glass-strengthening can make up for how fragile that makes them. The bowl shape is tipsy when full. However, Bormioli offers a lifetime warranty on this product, one of the only warranties I’ve ever seen for wine glasses, and it’ll cover breakage of the stem if it snaps during washing or drying. That’s a pretty bold offering. But finally, I noticed the bowl on the white wine glass was a little warped, making further efforts to evaluate unnecessary. They make a very pretty place setting, but that warp dashes the possibility they’ll be able to transmit taste and aroma like the Ouvertures, so aren’t competition for our top pick.
Glasses we didn’t test and why
The One by Andrea Robinson is an internet find that had good testimonials, but seems gimmicky. It doesn’t offer anything the Riedels don’t and is slightly more expensive.
Bed Bath & Beyond Gatherings have a beaded rim, which is no good.
The Rocco is their restaurant collection, and we already had similar glasses in the lineup with the Luminarcs. The Magnifico has a vanishing point bowl, which makes cleaning a real pain. The Super Reds are built to spill, and nd in light of a pretty scathing report for the all-purpose glasses that states, “The guarantee listed on the front of box fails to state it doesn’t cover breakage. You and I have been scammed if you bought these,” it just didn’t seem worth testing more than one shape.
Regarding other Crate & Barrel models—there are a lot of wine glasses in that store. I looked at every line available. I selected only the designs that I didn’t think would topple.
We wanted to look at the Eisch, just to see what $40 buys you, but it arrived broken. Eisch advertises technology that molecularly roughs up the interior of the glass (much like crystal does) to better aerate the wine. I asked Jeff about them and he immediately dismissed them: “They’re heavy.”
At $18 per glass, Holmegaard didn’t seem worth looking into given that I’ve never heard of them.
Iittala is the same design at the Schott Zwiesel Pure, which we tested, and $8 more expensive.
As with Crate & Barrel, I went to Ikea and looked at all the stemware. The Hederlig was the only glass with an appropriate shape and size.
The Lenox Tuscany Classics have no advantage over the Magnums and are a little more expensive.
Mikasa is a lifestyle dinnerware brand, and I didn’t find anything on their site that was non-decorative.
Peugeot glasses start at about $60 each (if you can find them)—too pricey.
Pier 1 Elegance Stemware is similar in price and quality to the Crate & Barrel, but without the high number of testimonials.
The opening on the Ravenscroft Amplifier looks very restrictive, and they’re $22.50 each.
Rosenthal was eliminated early due to price ($26).
Initially, I was interested in looking at Stolzle glasses, but I just wasn’t convinced that they could compete. The name was never uttered by anyone, including restaurants, and the internet was dead quiet.
On Amazon it was hard to find the necessary info I needed to evaluate Villeroy & Boch. How many glasses in the box? What kind of crystal? Not even any mention of how much wine they hold. A visit to their website was also unhelpful. But I did find out they start at about $25 each, which is more expensive than our pick.
The Waterford Mondavi is the most affordable plain stemware by Waterford, but still $25 per glass.
Wine Enthusiast Fusion Infinity are $17.50 each. They claim magnesium-fortified crystal adds strength, but the Schotts are titanium-fortified crystal (not the same mineral, but the same outcome) and are less expensive and highly regarded.
What makes a good wine glass anyway?
This article from the New York Times has a paragraph that is an ultra-basic primer as to what makes a good wine glass:
“It should be clear and smooth, rather than etched or colored, so that you can see the liquid inside. Size is a factor, too. For many red wines, a glass with a broad base is best, providing greater exposure to air, so that the wine can ‘breathe.’ White wines and older, fragile reds sometimes benefit from a narrower glass with a deeper base, which helps preserve the freshness and the fruit.”
The bowl must be large enough to swish and swirl the wine around, because that’s needed to aerate the liquid, releasing bottled-up aromas and flavors. Belinda Chang mentioned, “The rule of thumb is you only fill it so much that when somebody goes to swirl the wine inside the glass, it’s not going to overflow. You’re just filling it, maximum, a third of the way full.” A typical glass of red wine is about five to six ounces, and David Speer, owner of Champagne bar Ambonnay in Portland, OR, and one of Food & Wine’s 2013 Sommeliers of the Year said he uses a 24-ounce glass “so you have a lot of room for the wine to open up.” We don’t think you have to go that large, but any glass under 12 ounces will certainly be too small for red wine.
Another thing to consider is the shape of the bowl, which should taper inward at the top. Belinda advised, “There’s definitely limitations to glasses that don’t go convex and then concave. As you’re swirling the wine and adding oxygen, you want the molecules that give aromas to line up and down the side of the glass.”
As you can imagine, smell is really important when it comes to wine. As of right now, science has only got our taste receptors divided into five different sensations (salty, sour, bitter, sweet, and umami), but you can detect more 10,000 different scents. With a tapered glass, “When you put your nose in, you can really smell it.”
Jeff Cohn agreed. Without a tapered top, “when the 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,” that 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, this idea will have been taken into consideration—the glass should be directing the wine to the right part of your mouth.
Some articles discuss the scientific debunking of the tongue map theory. I asked Jeff if he thought the map was still valid. “Oh, I think it is. I think if I put salt on the tip it tastes different than if I put some salt on my tongue towards the back.” Though it’s not scientifically sound to delineate the tongue into finite taste sections, I agree that I simply don’t perceive salt on the sides of my mouth the way I do towards the front. But regardless of the validity of the theory, non-tapered glasses provide an inferior taste experience—so we eliminated them.
Crystal glass is generally a better material for wine glasses than soda-lime glass (what you might call “regular glass”). The molecular structure of crystal is a little rougher than glass and thus oxygenates the wine more aggressively, which is good. If you’re not an ardent wine drinker, you may not feel like this is a feature you need—however, crystal has other qualities that make it great for wine glasses. There is more specific info on the difference between crystal and glass here, but generally, soda-lime glass isn’t as clear or brilliant as crystal. It’s also harder to shape, making it more difficult to craft a very thin lip. We tested both glass and crystal stemware to see if we could discern a difference (and we absolutely could).
Articles in the New York Times and Wine Spectator have indicated that leaded crystal is safe to drink from, but not to store liquids in for any amount of time. The short amount of time a few ounces of wine spends in contact with a glass isn’t enough for any dangerous amount of lead to leach from the product. However, prolonged contact is a problem. So go for broke with your crystal glassware and enjoy, but avoid storing spirits in leaded crystal decanters.
You certainly don’t need an ultra-expensive wine glass, but spending less than $10 seems to sacrifice a few qualities that are worth it for our all-purpose glass. With a few exceptions, cheaper glasses are made of soda-lime (non-crystal) glass, are unwieldy or heavy, and are inconsistent in their ability to bring out the best qualities in the wines.
When you start purchasing varietal-specific glassware, cost starts creeping up to $15 or $20 a glass (or more). But if you just need a beautiful, functional, reliable go-to glass, that’s money that you don’t need to spend. Varietal-specific glasses were regularly eliminated early on in our taste test, and it’s just because they’re not designed to work with everything.
We didn’t look at any stemless glasses for two very good reasons. First, a stem serves to keep ugly fingerprints off the bowl. Second (and more importantly), the practical reason you have a stem on your glass is so that you don’t heat up the drink with your body heat.
Taking care of your wine glasses
You are almost 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 he is doing! I’m not sure what kind of glass he has, but it looks a lot like a thick, heavyweight model designed for restaurant service. If you do this to your crystal you will torque the stem and snap it right in two. You just can’t compete with the laws of physics. You want to hold the glass by the bowl while polishing to avoid twisting it apart—skip to 1:05 in this video to see the proper way to do it.
Wrapping it up
Recommendations for the Riedel Ouverture Magnum are enthusiastic and rampant. They’re used in tasting rooms everywhere. They’re not insanely expensive and pretty much anything you drink out of them will taste great, including Champagne and even cocktails. The Riedel company itself is recognized as the biggest player in the industry, and its reputation is backed up by the quality of its product. If you only own one wine glass, then this is the one to have.
Owner and Head Winemaker of JC Cellars, Interview,
Amplifying the Seduction of a Good Bottle, The New York Times, December 7, 2012,
It's Just a Wineglass, Wine Spectator,
Riedel Wine Glasses-The Best Wine Glasses, Good Housekeeping, March 27, 2011,
Founder of the Wine Advocate, eRobertParker.com,"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."
Originally published: February 3, 2014