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Which Wine Glass

  Master Sommelier Catherine Falls  
  Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis

 

Until recently, sommeliers and wine lovers had only two options for stemware – a durable budget choice, such as Libbey or the popular Schott Zwiesel Mondial, or the blue chip standard, Riedel. With such a disparity in cost, sommeliers often had to dole out the nice stemware only to those ordering high ticket wines, much to the disdain of neighboring guests. At home, Riedel glasses languished in their prisons, waiting for that special occasion.

Today’s wine lover has options galore at all price points. Worldwide interest in wine continues to soar as developments in technology and design provide multiple brilliant, resilient and stylish non-lead crystal options. Customers expect better stemware, even in more casual environments. Just as with bulk wine, the market for those small, chunky, top heavy glasses has all but disappeared. For the same price, modern options such as the much imitated stemless “O” line from Riedel, a great choice for home use – they were designed to fit in the dishwasher, small cabinet, or mini-bar – or even the shatterproof thermoplastic polymer resin GoVino stemless wine cup are well-received and being used at tony catered affairs and in some very high end winery tasting rooms. Gimmicky, niche options too are popping up, such as the Eisch Breathable Glass, which is a decent glass but not for fine dining (what sommelier would brag that he or she needed a special glass to get the wines into their drinkability window?) or the somewhat sterile, hyper-lyre shaped Impitoyable. The owner of a well-known neighborhood wine bar in San Francisco loves the Impitoyable, but not all of his patrons do. Fortunately, the market is loaded with stylish, durable, and budget-friendly to sky-is-the-limit stemware in both classic and innovative modern designs.

What to Look For


Wine lovers should consider several things before purchasing stemware.

1) The stemware style and quality should blend seamlessly with the décor, theme, and feel of your dining room and lifestyle.

2) The type of glassware selected should accommodate the wines you and your friends like to drink.

3) Count on replacing stems on a regular basis. Breakage is a fact of life.

4) To keep your stems shiny, consider purchasing some cotton linen napkins, or flour cloth, and polish gently just after washing.

grape goddess® recommends

Here are the stems that I recommend, for their sensual beauty, practicality (or lack thereof), and price/value ratio.

Libbey

Long known for durability and value, Libbey, an American company and one of the largest glassware producers in the world, now offers products for upscale customers as well. Libbey’s imported Luigi Bormioli collection is hand blown crystal made with SON.nyx™ technology giving them the resonance and transparency of lead crystal but with a higher resistance to breakage. Within Luigi Bormioli the sleek, diamond-shaped Atelier line has the look and feel of much pricier stemware. The Pinot Noir and Cabernet/Merlot glasses in particular are excellent options. The Luigi Bormiolo Accademia del Vino Bordeaux Grand Cru and Luigi Bormiolo Accademia del Vino Chardonnay are more classic and conservative, and like Atelier have the feel of pricier stems.

Another of Libbey’s high end lines is Wine Master. Here the stems are produced with Sheer Rim/D.T.E. ® technology, using a beadless edge which is first cracked off then polished. The result is a thin and durable rim. The Wine Master Aficionado 18oz Balloon would work nicely as a Burgundy glass, and the Aficianado 18oz Wine for Bordeaux. A cool little 9oz decanter which pivots on its bottom point, the Wine Master Rock-n-Roll Decanter, along with an 8.5oz Quartino in two more conservative designs round out this line and are excellent, affordable, and add panache to your parties.

Stolzle-USA

Stolzle-USA (pronounced “sto-zul”) is owned by their factory in Bavaria, Germany. Their melted crystal glass uses Silicon dioxide in place of lead to add elasticity to the glass, in turn adding a resistance to breakage. All glasses are produced with pulled stem technology: machines blow the molten glass into the mold, the stem is then pulled from the bowl to create one solid piece between the bowl and stem. The foot plate is attached and fire melted to give the overall appearance of a single piece of mouth blown glass. Pulled stems are resistant to having their bowls snapped off since they are made of one continuous piece of glass.

This is one of the main reasons why, according to Sales Manager John Kukulicka, customers are switching from Schott Zweisel's Pure Collection to the similarly designed Stolzle Experience. Experience sports a fresh, clean, stylish look. I like the Bordeaux stem in particular. Exquisit has a modern look as well, with a voluptuous, curvy shape which may or may not be to your taste. Kukulicka continues, “Many high end dining rooms use either our Grandezza or Fire collections, while more casual restaurants use our Classic, Event or Weinland collections.”

Fire, a mouth blown line produced at the Stolzle factory in Vienna, Austria, has two items of note. The striking, clean-lined Fire Decanter has a volcano shaped punt in the bottom. And then there is the most breathtakingly beautiful wine glass I have ever seen, the Fire Burgundy/Pinot Noir. Sexy to look at, hold, and drink from, this glass should win awards, if not for its ease of buffing. The only other glass on the market that comes close is the Riedel Sommeliers Bourgogne Grand Cru/Pinot Noir, which is in a league of its own and is a much larger goblet. This glass is very stylized, but is a slam dunk for any highly perfumed light red of great finesse and nuance.

Bormioli Rocco

With origins going back to the middle ages, this Italian company continues to turn out stylish, durable, and very competitively priced stemware. The gently diamond shaped Restaurant line incorporates laser cutting for a thin, even rim and uses pulled stem technology for durability. These small, sleek glasses are well below the cost of similar quality and design from other producers, and work like a dream for portion control/positive impression. Premium stems are also manufactured as a single piece with a long drawn stem and blown bowl. The glasses, especially the Premium Barolo and Premium XL stems, are curvy and luxurious in feel..

According to Pete Dukas, National Sales Manager, Food Service, the Magnesium goblets use FORMA technology and include magnesium in the composition which reduces scratches. These impressive glasses, including the thin-stemmed, big bowled Barolo and Cabernet, are magnificent to look at, hold, and drink from, even for those with smaller hands. Many glasses of this size are top heavy, awkward, and pricier. At $10 per stem, these are one of the best deals on the market.

Cardinal International/Arc - Chef & Sommelier

Located in Wayne, New Jersey and in operation since 1935, this large supplier is well-known throughout the hospitality industry for quality and durability. They recently redesigned and renamed their Mikasa Hotel & Restaurant line, an upscale collection of wine and bar stemware, to Chef & Sommelier. With the exception of the Grand Cru line, which is hand-blown crystal, all Chef & Sommelier glasses are manufactured with Kwarx™ material, giving ultra-thin and ultra-durable glass.

According to Marketing Director Nichole Vanderhoof, the best selling Chef & Sommelier line is Open Up, a striking looking line designed to flatter the young wines dominating restaurant lists these days. The upper part of the bowl is rounded inwards. The second best selling line, Select, was designed in conjunction with the Union de la Sommellerie Francaise, and incorporates Georg Riedel’s ideas of sending wines to specific parts of the palate. In this line, the stylish Select 6oz flute fills nicely with 4 to 4 _ oz of sparkling wine, great for traditionalists who, like the Champenoise, serve frequent small pours to keep the sparkling wine fresh and fizzy. The 9 5/8 oz Riedel Sommelier Vintage Champagne glass is lovely and decadent, but by the time you get halfway through the glass the Champagne is warm and not so sparkling.

Oenologist Dany Rolland, wife of world famous flying winemaker Michel, created what is now the Chef & Sommelier Oenologue Expert line in 1991. Initially made of crystal, it too now uses Kwarx™ material. Dany’s designs are sophisticated, luxurious, and, as one would expect, flattering to the wines they are designed for.

Chef & Sommelier has two decanters of note. Open Up is a striking, modern decanter with an easy-to-grip base, a long, beveled neck for drip control, and a stopper. It is a bit pricey but is an exceptionally practical option at the top end of the market. The Freshness is designed for young whites and rosés. It also comes with a stopper, and is shaped like a wine bottle so that it is not only easy to handle, but easy to place in an ice bucket as well. Decanting a rosé would certainly draw attention.

Fortessa/Schott Zwiesel

When I arrived at the San Francisco showroom of distributor Frank Maxwell, Gary Danko was just leaving. Fortessa imports Schott Zwiesel, company known for quality stemware, while Fortessa is known more for tableware. The Schott Zwiesel Tritan line is handmade in Germany with a base of a titanium and zirconian – no other surface is harder except for diamonds according to Maxwell – and uses platinum instead of lead to strengthen the glass at the weak points - the lip, the foot, and the bowl where it meets the stem. Tritan lines of note include Forte, Pure, and Fine.

The Schott Zwiesel Forte line is classically round, while Pure is distinctly angular in the popular inverted pentagon style. Micheal Mina uses the Forte 0 All Purpose glass, while two other San Francisco hotspots, Epic Roasthouse and Conduit, use Pure. The stylized Fine, a short wide base topped by a long narrowing chimney, is the newest in the Tritan line, and is gaining in popularity.

Schott Zwiesel’s handmade, mouthblown collection, Zweisel 1872, has a beautiful Enoteca line, as well as THE FIRST by Enrico Bernardo™. Bernardo is the cellar master of Le Cinq in Paris.

Christofle

The nec plus ultra in silverware, Christofle offers several handcrafted lead crystal choices. Malmaison stemware and carafe and the Iriana carafe are standouts. Christofle stems are found in the bar at the renovated Plaza Hotel in Manhattan and the Mansion at MGM in Las Vegas. The Bellagio in Las Vegas purchased 750 of the new Bernard Yot Decanter, made of silverplate and crystal, for high rollers. Thomas Keller and Adam Tihani have collaborated on a very high end custom line, K&T, and Christofle offers wine service products including silverplated wine cradles, the Anémone-Belle Époque ice buckets, and exquisite Champagne sabers. Fagan points out, “A lot of folks make the assumption that Christofle is too pricey – we have a competitive product if the customer is discerning.”

Riedel/Spiegelau

Most folks are familiar with Riedel (as in needle), the most recognized name in fine wine stemware. The company is based in Kufstein, Austria. In 1973, Claus Riedel collaborated with the Association of Italian Sommeliers (ASI) to develop the world’s first wine-specific glassware line. His son, Georg, the face of Riedel, further developed the Sommeliers series, which has become the most coveted collection of stemware in the world, especially the Sommeliers Bourgogne Grand Cru/Pinot Noir. What sommelier or other wine lover doesn’t drool over the thought of owning even a handful of these hedonistic stems? A team of about 25 craftsmen make each glass; the upper parts are blown into a mold, the stem and base handcrafted using methods developed more than 2000 years ago. Sommeliers are over 24% lead crystal, and are, naturally, expensive and fragile. I tell folks teasingly, “my last glass snapped when I gave it a dirty look.” The Sommeliers decanters are quite durable, however, and with the ribbing at the neck, easy to handle even for smaller hands. The Sommeliers Magnum Decanter is especially ideal for aerating tannic 750ml bottles. I also like the Amadeo and Cornetta decanters for their fresh, sexy looks as well as their functionality.

Georg Riedel believes that glasses are a wine tool. “There are three factors in determining glass quality - rim diameter, glass size, and glass shape.” He continues, “glasses are like magnifying glasses – they capture the nuance, the complexity. We are transporting messages. We are not changing the wine, but the set-up, the physics, how the wine hits the palate, and we want to show aromatics in layers. The design is based on the DNA of the varietal, not the region/terroir.”

Toni Neumeister, Director of Food & Beverage Operations for Crystal Cruises, says, “In the specialty restaurants on our ships we us Riedel glassware and decanters. We need world wide access, stable, user-friendly glasses, and a look and design to complement the quality of the wine.” Crystal Cruises is consistently recognized for their wine program, arguably the best at sea.

Riedel introduced the Vinum line in 1986. It was the first machine-made line based exclusively on the characteristics of grape varietals. Widely imitated, like every business success story, the glasses are durable, easy to find, and well-received even by critical consumers.

The new Restaurant and Restaurant Extreme lines offer durability and value, along with the signature Riedel design. David Glancy, MS, CWE, and Chief Education Officer of San Francisco Wine School likes the Restaurant Sangiovese for tastings. He says, “It is a good size and shape as a compromise if you are not going to have separate red and white glasses. It is attractive and still dishwasher safe. The Court of Master Sommeliers also uses the Riedel Restaurant Sangiovese glass for all Advanced and Masters exams.” He also recommends Andrea Immer Robinson’s The One, a beautiful, if smaller, wine goblet.

In 2004, Georg bought the German-based companies Nachtmann and Spiegelau, eliminating them as competition. Within Speigelau the Siena Decanter as well as the Vino Vino and Vino Grande lines are worth checking out.

 

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