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It's Just a Wineglass

Keep it simple when you move from the jelly jars to your first serious stemware
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Apr 6, 2011 12:00pm ET

Descended from a long line of klutzes and china shop bulls, my family doesn't have a persuasive track record with wineglasses. Not long ago, my eldest child knocked a tray from the cupboard and wiped out three Riedels like so many bowling pins.

Shattered glass is something you get used to as you begin to enjoy wine, whether you're in my family or not. Wineglasses are top-heavy and fragile by design, and even veteran handlers will snap a stem off as they wash. Like most wine lovers, I safeguard the really good glasses in a secret location far from stubby fingers. I don't use them nearly enough out of sheer fear, but I like to open the cabinet and gaze at them on occasion.

Out of necessity, I've become well-versed on quality stemware at a fair price. Connoisseurs use such glasses for everyday wines, but more important, they're ideal for anyone ready to take wine more seriously, anyone who has realized that a good glass makes a difference in how a wine smells and tastes-and that therefore special occasions and distinctive wines deserve a better glass.

If you're ready to move up, a good, entry-level glass will cost between $6 and $10. The first thing to remember is to keep it simple. Start with two types of glasses: one for reds and one for whites, or more specifically, use "Bordeaux" and "Burgundy" glasses designed to bring out the best of the aromas and flavors of particular wine types.

Bordeaux glasses have a tall, tulip-shaped bowl and are designed for full-bodied, boldly aromatic wines made from grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel. Burgundy glasses have a stouter, more balloon-like shape, intended to emphasize the aromas of more delicate wines like Pinot Noir, or whites like Chardonnay.

The size of the bowl is also important. Think of it this way: A wineglass is like an echo chamber. The larger the bowl, the better the echo. So beware of tiny and compact glasses.

One final thing to consider is the quality of glass. There's a certain quality of showmanship to this point, but it's hard to deny that a delicate crystal glass enhances the experience for many of us. In the $6 to $10 range, you'll find both crystal and good quality glass available, though at this price point, the crystal rarely contains lead. (Lead traditionally helps strengthen and balance the best crystal, but there are health concerns so manufacturers have developed lead-free alternatives.)

Now for specifics. If your budget is tight, consider the Oregon series of stemware at Crate & Barrel. The glasses have a certain elegance, and they're sturdy but not clunky. They sell for about $6 apiece.

Riedel offers a variety of styles and price points but the Vivant series sold mostly through Target stores is a good introduction to this highly regarded company. The glasses are lead-free crystal and sell for about $40 for a set of four.

Another name to look for is Schott Zwiesel. Its Forte collection is made from crystal laced with titanium to add strength. A set of six is widely sold for about $78. Finally there's Spiegelau, which is now owned by Riedel. Many of my friends are devoted to Spiegelau's Vino Vino glass series, which is made from lead-free crystal and sells for about $53 for a set of 4.

For beginners, $10 for a wineglass might seem expensive, particularly considering its fragile nature, but most new adventures come with a price. With any luck, the people in your house will have more grace than mine.

Philip A Chauche
Germantown, MD —  April 6, 2011 12:50pm ET

Excellent introduction. I have to confess that we and our guests are quite happy with the impressive-looking $4 Viv wine glasses, also at Crate & Barrel.

When shopping at the lower end of the wine glass market, I have one piece of advice:

Don't neglect the stem.

Specifically, you can spin a wine glass to expose the flaws in the bowl, but you're unlikely to detect them otherwise. A seam on a stem, however, is a constant distraction from the wine experience. For me, that also applies to rectangular stems. I want my fingers on something smooth while I enjoy the wine.

Finally, I must also confess that a great wine glass doesn't improve an uninteresting wine. Whatever wine glass you end up choosing, make sure both the wine and the glass are worthy of each other.
David Peters
Mission Viejo, CA —  April 6, 2011 1:47pm ET

For the money, I feel the Schott Zwiesel Forte collection is the greatest value in stemware. Never had one break except when I dropped one in our cast-iron kitchen sink. They go through the dishwasher flawlessly.

And, you don't need to have 10 different shapes: We found their Bordeaux, Burgundy, White wine, and Champagne glasses enough to show-off any wine except maybe Port, which is another story.

We get our Schott Zwiesel glasses for $47.94 per 6 pack ($7.99 each) at the Wine Exchange in Orange, CA. Best QPR in wine glasses, anywhere.
Loren Lingenfelter
Danville, CA —  April 6, 2011 3:09pm ET
Cost Plus Marktes sells some amazing glasses for $6.99. As of today they are on sale for $4.99. I swear they are Schott Zwiesel blemished glasses. They are great.
David Peters
Mission Viejo, CA —  April 6, 2011 3:53pm ET

Didn't know Schott Zwiesel sold 'seconds'. One way to tell.....Schott Zwiesel laser-etches their name on the underside of their glass bases; impossible to wear off.

I have a Cost Plus Market near by.....think I'll stop in and check out the glasses you mentioned.
Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  April 6, 2011 4:30pm ET
That is worth checking out Loren, and thanks everyone for joining the conversation.
John D Carlson
Oshkosh, WI —  April 6, 2011 5:34pm ET
Being in the libation business, i've found nothing tops the riedel restaurant line for the money. If you are a consumer and cant procure these whole-sale only glasses, i'd suggest trying to talk your local restraunteur into selling you a few under the table-inexpensive, stylish and seemingly indestructible!
Fred Brown
Maryland —  April 6, 2011 10:07pm ET
We love our Spiegelau. The Bordeaux actually work very well with Cali Chards as well as all our reds.
Jonathan Lawrence
somewhere in the world —  April 7, 2011 8:29am ET
My favorite is the Ravenscroft Sommelier/Classic series, modeled after the Riedel Sommelier but at a fraction of the cost ($15-20/stem vs. $60/stem). These are handmade and lead-free crystal, extremely light (fragile!), and are made in numerous styles like the Riedels. (Another plus: I can get individual replacement glasses, at wineglass.com)

I don't think white wine requires a special glass the way reds do; I use a cheap Libby glass ($20 for a set of 12, if I recall)--it was the glass Grgich used at its tasting room.

I'd be curious to know how many different types of wineglasses people keep on hand--that is, how many different kinds you "must have". My collection includes Burgundy (for Pinot Noir), Bordeaux (for all other reds), sparkling, port, and a generic white wine glass.
Dave Reuther
Deerfield, Illinois —  April 7, 2011 7:10pm ET
I use the Schott Zwiesel Forte glasses for my more serious wine occasions. When not is use I store them in their original shipping cases to reduce chance of breakage.

To reduce breakage in more hazardous areas such as a deck or patio, I have a number acrylic glasses in both Bordeaux and Burgandy styles that work rather well. The bowls are properly sized and shaped, thin enough and clear enough to evaluate the wines color and bouquet. They also pack well for road trips.

Well designed acrylic glasses are not always easy to find, but I've had luck at places such as World Market, Bed Bath & Beyond and Crate & Barrel. They are subject to scratches, discoloring and may not be dishwasher safe. But they are cheaper than crystal and pretty much eliminate the breakage problem.
Lina Street
Dallas, TX —  April 8, 2011 3:42pm ET
For my money there hasn't been anything better than the Riedel Vinum series glasses. They have been pretty durable (only broken one in the past year), and I use them at least three or four times a week. A winner, as far as I'm concerned.
Lyle Kumasaka
Arlington, VA —  April 9, 2011 9:07am ET
A nice thing about Crate and Barrel glasses is that they are open stock -- break one, buy one.

Downside: many of their patterns are hand-blown, and at that price point one must be prepared for some variation -- thicker stem, shallower curve at the base of the bowl, etc. Not always OCD-safe.
James R Biddle
Dayton, OH —  April 9, 2011 2:52pm ET
Jonathan, I have two collections (both Riedel): one for dinners (6-10) is the same as yours without the port (i.e., Burgundy, Bordeaux, sparkling, and generic white). My other collection is limited to 4 glasses for each type. I confess to falling for Riedel's marketing system--so I treat them as my wine-toys. I have different glasses for about 5 different reds and 3 different whites. (Frankly, I'm too embarrassed to count them.......)
Jack Erickson
dallas tx —  April 11, 2011 7:46pm ET
I also use the Spiegelau have had a couple of sets of Riedel but broken them washing them. I only use glasses that have 24-28 oz capacity
Joseph Kane
Austin —  April 12, 2011 3:02pm ET
Riedel Vinum are great. A touch pricier, but durable, and dishwasher safe. You can also go varietal specific, and they look wonderful. I haven't had any durability issues with them. I am a fan of the Zweisels as well. Forte is solid, and not very fragile.

As far as the big hitters go, tough to beat a Sommellier's series Bordeaux or Burgundy glass. Ultra-lite, very thin, but such high quality lead crystal that they are not fragile...although top-heavy they most certainly can be.
LA, CA —  April 18, 2011 1:36pm ET
Instead of the Vivant glasses at Target for $40, you can get Nachtmann Vivendi glasses for $35 and save $5. They are the exact same glass (both owned by Riedel and same dimensions, everything) just without the etching so if you don't care, it's a better value.


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