by Manos Angelakis
It used to be that luxury stemware preferred by wine drinkers of my father’s generation were fairly thick, ornate, heavily carved, lead crystal glasses, produced by companies with a long history, such as Baccarat, Moser, Waterford, Josephinenhütte, or Cristallerie Saint Louis, to name but a few. There were only a few sizes in a set: water, first wine (white), second wine (red), champagne (flute or coupe), liqueur, tall tumbler (for iced tea or other long drinks), short tumbler and a few beverage-specific glasses like whisky, martini, cognac, and sherry, and of course carafes, water pitchers and finger bowls. The design was dictated purely by aesthetics, not function. The cost per stem could be outrageous. Yes, the glasses looked wonderful, many times they were artistic masterpieces, but frankly they did not do much for the contents, except perhaps showcase the color of a particular wine.
Then in the early ‘60s, Claus Riedel, an Austrian glassmaker with a long family history of quality crystal production, came up with the idea of producing wine-specific glasses that would enhance wine attributes, specifically smell and taste, in addition to the visual color showcasing. He designed glasses that concentrated the wine aroma and directed it to the nose, while directing the liquid stream to specific areas of the tongue that would be the most sensitive to the taste of the type of wine for which the glass was designed. The stemware were made of thin crystal. The handmade Sommelier series was launched in 1973, introducing the revolutionary new concept to the wine trade. His son Georg, a wine aficionado, further developed Claus’s theories, creating grape-specific glasses, and mechanizing the production of fine wine glasses with the Vinum series, making Riedel glasses far more affordable for oenophiles. Now the wine specific series sport as many as 40 or more variations on the theme.
I bring all this history up because I now find wine or even grape -specific stemware produced not only by Riedel but also by Schott Zwiesel, Spiegelau, Waterford, Mikasa and many other producers, in practically every restaurant I visit. If the wine list has more than a couple decent wines, the glasses on the table are thin, wine-specific glasses. Usually, the table is preset with 3 glasses (water, Burgundy and Chardonnay or similar) and, once a bottle has been selected the appropriate glass is brought, if not already present. Also, most of the better restaurants have wine decanters at hand and will decant your wine upon request (see To Decant... or not? for reasons why a wine, especially a red wine, should be decanted). While the initial design called for all-clear glass, there are new designs produced with colored stems, as shown by the above Riedel Vin Rosé glass, with a rose-colored stem.
Even at home, wine lovers now bring out wine specific glasses with their favorite bottle of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Riesling, Barolo, Prosecco, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère etc. I personally find these glasses very attractive, reasonably priced, and they make great holiday gifts for your favorite wine aficionado.
To your health!
Baccarat (http://baccarat.neimanmarcus.com) I use the Neiman Marcus site as reference because the design of the actual Baccarat site is very user unfriendly.
Riedel Glassworks: http://www.riedel.com/intro-riedel.html
Schott Zwiesel: http://www.schott-zwiesel.com/index_e.htm
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