Finding the perfect wine glass: Don’t be a tightwad

ID-100150176If one word describes me, it is probably clumsy. I have a bad habit of breaking things not long after buying them, which comes at a great expense. New clothing is stained within the first week of ownership, while any mechanical or electronic device stands a good chance of being damaged beyond repair within months.

Just this morning while I was walking to work in the rain, I stepped on not just one, but two, loose paving stones that splashed cold water up my trouser leg. I looked as though I had severe bladder problems.

It is for this clumsiness that I shouldn’t own expensive glassware. Fancy wine glasses are not going to stand much chance in my household. They might last a few weeks or even a few months, but they will end up in the bin along with my stained shirts and damaged iPods faster than you can say Schott Zwiesel.

So it came as no surprise the other day when a not-very-cheap Zalto glass exploded in my hand while I was giving it a wash.

The first thought that went through my mind was the amount of money that was about to be thrown into the bin. The second thought that raced through my mind was whether I could justify buying replacement glasses the next day — to the tune of £30 each.

With this in mind, I thought it was an appropriate time to dust off a piece I wrote for By The Bottle last year and adapt it to this blog. The thought of going out tomorrow and spending £30 per glass is difficult to process, but then I thought about the alternative: going out and spending £3 a glass and regretting it.

Being stingy won’t do you any good here. Paris goblets and those cheap, thick-rimmed  glasses found in pubs are widely known not to flatter a wine’s character because of the way they are shaped.

As has been said before, if you want to maximise the quality of your wine, you should spend as much on a glass as they would on a good bottle. If you’re willing to pay £30 for wine, why ruin it by pouring it into a sub-standard glass?

Better flavours
We’re spoiled for choice when it comes to glass selection. There are probably too many options out there. Does Riedel really need to make a glass specifically for Kalterersee auslese, a red wine from northeast Italy?

The most important thing about a wine glass is its shape and its weight. A lighter, thinner glass with the right shape will do more for the flavours than something heavy and thick.

But choosing among the myriad options can be a time-consuming process, made even worse by the fact we rarely get a chance to do a side-by-side comparison of glasses before buying. But this exactly what I did when I somehow managed the people at Berry Bros & Rudd to arrange a tasting that allowed me to compare two glasses side by side. Could broadly similar glasses from different manufacturers really have any major differences?

For this comparison I made things relatively easy; I decided to pitch the undisputed market leader, Riedel, against a relative newcomer into the wine glass market, Berry Bros.

We all know these names well, but for different reasons. Riedel is the Austrian behemoth that makes 55-million glasses each year (so clearly not all hand-blown, ahem). Berry Bros, meanwhile, usually sells the wine you drink from the glass, but entered the market with a new line in 2012, The Wine Merchant’s Wine Glasses.

Head to head
It is hard to believe that wine sipped from different glasses of similar quality might take on different aromas and flavours, but this is a widely recognised fact in the wine trade.

For simplicity’s sake I compared the four glasses that wine drinkers use the most. From the Berry Bros selection, we chose the Champagne, White Burgundy, Red Burgundy and Red Bordeaux glasses. From the Riedel Vinum range we opted for Champagne, Chablis, Red Burgundy and Red Bordeaux. The Riedel glasses tested here range between £35 and £40 a pair, while the Berry Bros glasses sell for £47.50 to £55 a pair.

Into the glasses we poured four French wines to match the designs: Champagne Lahay Cuveé Prestige Blanc de Noirs; Domaine Pinson Chablis 1er Cru Montain 2009; Domaine de Montille Nuits St Georges Aux St Juliens 2007; and Château Batailley 2004.

The results
First up was the Champagne glass and this is where the Berry’s glass takes a departure from the standard flute, having a more bulbous shape than the familiar narrow flute. But how did it perform?

The Riedel held the mousse the longest and showed more yeast on the nose, while the Berry’s glass expressed a great deal more citrus. On the palate, however, both glasses performed similarly and to my surprise there were few, if any, discernible differences.

Moving to the white Burgundy glasses, again, the Berry’s version has a wider bowl while the Riedel Chablis is more traditional, having a small, narrower bowl. The fuller Berry’s glass suits younger wines that need more air to open up.

What caught me off-guard was the fact the Berry’s glass made the wine more rounded and mellow, flattering its aromas, while Riedel maintained the wine’s steely, mineral characteristics. Both were good, but it was plain to see how personal preference could determine which glass someone might buy.

When we drank red Burgundy, it was the Riedel glass on this occasion that seemed to best bring out the wine’s qualities. It teased out tertiary aromas like earth and mushroom, but the wine also seemed to be more woody on the nose, while the Berry’s glass tended express more minerality and freshness, bringing forth plenty of red fruits and spice on the nose and palate.

After three wines, test was a dead heat. Little changed when we tried the fourth wine, Chateau Batailley 2004, a fifth growth Bordeaux. It was only just beginning to show some maturity and proved a good test for the glasses because it came from a classic –  or less highly regarded – Bordeaux vintage and its flavours were therefore more subtle.

Out of the Riedel glass, there was lots of minerality and classic Pauillac aromas of graphite and pencil shavings on the nose, while the palate had plenty of dark fruits and a long finish. The Berry’s glass, on the other hand, appeared to be more expressive, showing plenty of oak and graphite on the nose and more fruit on the palate.

The verdict
Riedel may have been the driving force behind the current wine glass market, but today there are more options than ever before – and choosing among them is an arduous task.

The important thing to remember, though, is that even when buying a more affordable glass from a highly regarded manufacturer, you are sure to land on a winner to one extent or another. In the end, when forking out a significant amount of money for any wine glass, you are unlikely to go wrong if you opt for one of the leading brands. Just stay away from the Paris goblets.

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2 thoughts on “Finding the perfect wine glass: Don’t be a tightwad

  1. Great piece, Geordie and I have adhered to this advice for years (I have also broken more than my fair share as well). Recently, Andrea (Immer) Robinson came out with her own stemware–”The One” and she claims that you can use this one glass for all wines. Any thoughts on that?

  2. I haven’t seen Andrea’s glass yet (something tells me it isn’t available in the UK?) but I’ve researched it online. I imagine it could be pretty good? This reminds me a bit of Olly Smith’s ‘The Glass’ (http://www.ollysmith.com/shop/glassware/the-glass/), which is designed to be a universal wine glass for everyday drinking.

    I am actually putting serious consideration into the Berry Bros glasses. I have Riedels, I have Zaltos, or at least what is left of them, and I figure I might as well carry on my tradition of not having any matching glasses by ordering yet more of another brand. Surely that’s the smart thing to do, right?

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