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.