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The significance of stemware
The right wine glass can make a world of difference

Photos by Matt Haas

May 2015

Once a year, Lorelei Mustas tries an experiment with her customers at Vina Mundi in Genesee Depot. She takes one of her stellar wines and then pours it into four different glasses — a nice, vintage appropriate glass, "a crummy, old, icky gramma’s glass with a thick, rolled lip on it," a water glass and a plastic cup. "People were amazed, and they really did understand how a good wine glass makes a difference," says Mustas.

Robert Hall, owner of Bottega del Vino, an artisan wine glass crafter, says he sees the same thing in the glass classes he teaches all over the country. "For people who think the glass doesn’t matter, they should try a comparative tasting," Hall says. "The thing is, very few people have the palate memory to remember what one wine tasted like on one night in one glass, then the same wine in another glass two weeks later. That’s why it’s so instructive to taste the same wine out of two different glasses, side by side. It only takes a few minutes, and really, I’ve seen this proven over and over again that if the wine matters, so does the glass."

But given that good wine glasses matter, which glasses should you buy? Should you get the glass for Bordeaux vintages or go with a burgundy? Do you need one type of white wine glass or should you buy for each varietal? "You could get a glass for every varietal, and at some point, I think it’s just too much," says Mustas.

For Mustas, she says the four glasses she’d select would be a burgundy glass, a Bordeaux/chardonnay glass, a riesling white glass and a champagne flute, and she sells Riedel versions in her shop.

Hall says, for the very beginning wine connoisseur, he’d recommend going with a Bordeaux/chardonnay glass. "If someone wants just one glass, the classic Bordeaux shaped glass works really well," he says. "You won’t get the optimum experience for all the reds, but you’ll do OK." The next glass he’d recommend would be a burgundy glass, and then he’d recommend a delicate white glass. But for the fourth glass, what he would suggest depends on whether the wine drinker enjoys sparkling wines or fortified wines; if the oeneophile prefers the latter, she would forego the flutes in favor of a cognac glass.

Any fine crystal maker should have these basic styles, but Mustas advises to stay away from the stemless wine glasses. "Your hands will warm up the wine in stemless glasses," she says.

The main thing to consider when selecting glasses is finding versions with thin crystal. "You should feel as if there’s nothing between your lips and the wine, and the wine shouldn’t be coming over in a waterfall over a big, rolled rim," Hall says.

What fine stemware does is accentuate the aromas of the different wine varietals so that you can optimally taste them. "Ninety percent of what you’re tasting is actually aromas, and that’s the difference between drinking wine out of a great glass or a cheap glass," Hall says.

No matter what glass you sip your syrah out of, make sure it’s washed with no soapy residue and dried using tea towels or flour sacks, which are little cotton towels that don’t leave fuzzy residue behind on the glasses (they’re available at Wal-Mart, Mustas says). "I always tell people to rinse, rinse, rinse," he says.

This story ran in the May 2015 issue of: