Why So Many Glasses?

As I was washing glassware the other day, I noticed that one of them had a hairline crack in the side.  As I tossed the glass away, I knew that I would have to replace it.  The question is what to look for when purchasing glassware?

History

I’ve purchased a great number of glasses over the years.  I still own the first set I purchased when I attended undergraduate school in 1987.  Over time, I have purchased over 400 glasses in various styles, shapes etc.  You are wondering why so many?  Two major reason:

  • I was taught by family that you always need a set of 8 glasses for guests. That means I would need 8 white glasses, 8 red glasses, etc. 
  • To fully enjoy a beverage, the glass makes a difference.

Sounds crazy right?  Can the glass make the beverage taste better?   It can and I will discuss what a glassware tasting is in a future article.  Today, I want to give you some insight on what I look for when I get ready to purchase glassware.

Clarity

This is important.  The glass should be clear, and the beverage should be easy to see.  For all my wine glasses that I have purchased, I make sure that the bowl (the area that holds the beverage) is clear.  I should be able to look through the bowl and easily see the wine color, sediment, etc.  The glass should not be distorted.  I have come across some glassware where even water looks different.  Here is the best way I can describe it.  Have you ever put on someone’s else glasses and looked at something?  It looks misshapen or distorted, even out of focus.  Poor quality glassware will resemble this feeling.  I always open the box and look at each glass to make sure that its clear.

Color of the Glass

Please do not purchase glasses that have colored bowls.  Yes, I do have a few glasses with colored stems.  That’s as far as it goes.  Glass that has color in the bowl area will discolor the wine and lower the experience.  Would you really want to drink a green wine?  Probably not.  Look at it this way.  The winemaker has spent a great deal of time to produce a product they wish to showcase.  Let them do this in a non-colored glass.

Lip / Rim Area

This is very important.  I will spend a few moments looking at the rim.  Does it appear to be thick (not paper thin) or look like it’s rolled over?  That typically happens with machine made glasses.  Higher quality glassware will have a thin rim.  Remember this is the area that will be sitting on your lip when you sample.  A thicker rim will not be comfortable. 

Run your finger over the rim as well.  I do this to check for chips, cracks etc.  Take a few moments and gently run your finger over each glass rim to check.  Be careful that you do not cut yourself.  However, this simple step has allowed me to put back many glasses and find safer ones.

The Base and Stem = Balance

A well-made glass should not feel top heavy at any time.  The stem should be long enough to give the glass structure and appeal.  The base should be wide enough to give stability to the glass in two ways:

  • When I hold a glass in my hands, my pinky finger sits under the base of the glass as an anchor. The base should feel comfortable sitting here (not thick or wide)
  • A glass on the table should be stable to not knock over easily. The base’s main job is to hold the glass upright.  It therefore should not be too big or too small.

I test my glassware the same way.  I will pick it up and place in my hand (under the pinky) and hold it by pinching the stem.  Then I will swing the glass around to see how it feels in my hand.  I’m not attempting to throw it; just move it around.  If at any point I feel like I’m about to lose it out of my hands, then I’m not going to purchase it.  Think about it filled with wine:  I could easily lose the glass and my wine.  I also place the glass on a flat surface and poke it with a few fingers.  If the glass appears that it will tip over easy, then it’s not being purchased since the base is not wide enough to keep it stable.

Bowl Shape

The bowl shape is designed primarily to hold wine.  It will retain aromas if the bowl is shaped to curve inward at the rim area.  However, its job is to hold wine period.  My day to day glass related to bowl shape are from Ikea.  They meet the above criteria and they are economical.  If I break one, I don’t cry like I did with the $100 hand blown Riedel that snapped while cleaning over the holidays.

I say this for a reason.  Up to this point, we have not discussed price.  As you spend more and more on a glass, some manufactures have specifically shaped the bowl to match specific grape varieties.  That means that you will have to have a set of glasses (8 remember) of each grape variety glass made.  I have several of these and they do enhance the wine.  However, I have not fully dived in for a complete 8 set on each one (cost and storage).

Size related to Liquid Held

Let’s be honest.  Everyone wants the biggest glass that holds the most ounces because it looks cool.  Crate and Barrel for a time sold a 32oz wine glass and yes, it held 32 oz and was stable.  32 oz is a bottle and a half in your glass!  Sure, that sounds amazing since you pour the entire bottle in your glass and enjoy the evening.

A functional glass should be sized to hold 8-10 oz of wine.  The most I will ever pour for you (regardless of the size of the glass), is 4-6 oz of wine.  If it’s a wine that I need to worry about temperature control, a small pour will maintain temperature and quality while you consume it.  The aromas will always be fresh from the bottle in smaller pours and generally taste better.  You can swirl the wine in the glass and not worry about it spilling.  I went to a restaurant one time and the waiter poured up to the rim.  I could not pick the glass up; it had so much wine in it.  I had to slurp from the rim without moving the glass.  Not pleasant.

Summary

I hope that the above information gives you some guidance on what to look for when purchasing glassware.  Just remember that the purpose of any glass is to hold liquid and get it to our lips to consume.  We can get into much greater detail regarding shape, etc.  However, the goal is to enjoy the beverage and the experience.  That’s why I go to Home Goods/Marshall’s periodically to look for glasses.  Amazing what you can find at 30% off like the Riedel glasses in the top picture.  Enjoy the search everyone!

#artofthepair