Does This Zin Make My Glass Look Fat?

Some people have shoe fetishes. Others collect cars, cigars, or vintage posters. My weakness is wineglasses. Not gaudy or ornate, nothing colorful or fancy, not necessarily antique. Just good, well-made, crystal-clear stems.

It started one evening when a wine expert friend brought over a prized bottle of Shiraz for us to sample. I poured his cherished wine into my standard-issue mass market stemware. He was horrified. “A wine like this deserves the right glass! You need to build your collection.”

I was taken aback. I’d never paid much attention to my wineglasses, but now that their shortcomings had been pointed out, I became obsessed. Yes, the rim of the glass was a little thick. The bulbous shape of the bowl was awkward, and the glass had an indifferent feel. By my friend’s next visit, I resolved, I would have the perfect wineglass for whatever bottle he brought over.

Easier said than done. It’s no longer one type of glass for red and another for white. One can invest hundreds of dollars in a mass of high-priced stems, each designed for a specific grape varietal. I set out to learn whether those glass-grape pairings really make a difference when enjoying wine, and if so, which ones I need to own.

Riedel was the natural starting point for my research. Many swear by Riedel glasses, but curse their fragility—at $30 or more a stem, one false move while washing them could set you back as much as the bottle you just served. Why the Riedel mystique? In 1961 Claus Josef Riedel, a ninth-generation member of the glassmaking family, introduced the world’s first line of stemware shaped and sized to showcase the unique characteristics of different varietals. Today, his Sommeliers series, with its hand-blown beauty, is the gold standard.

Does the shape of the glass really affect the bouquet and taste of wine? The answer, most experts agree, is yes. Tim Kopec, award-winning wine director at New York City’s Veritas, says he became a believer after tasting Opus One (a Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine) in both Cabernet and Pinot Noir glasses. “The engineering is correct,” he says. “It works, and it makes a difference.”

We experimented with different wines one rainy night at Veritas. A 2002 California Calera Pinot Noir seemed richer in the Pinot glass; in the Cabernet/Bordeaux glass, it stayed fruity, pleasant but less nuanced. And a 1994 Pomerol (Merlot) that was floral in the Pinot glass showed off its tobacco and vegetal notes in the Cabernet glass; though Kopec actually preferred the Pinot glass for this wine, for bringing out its more “feminine” qualities.

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By Meryl Rosofsky

is a contributor to the Organic Wine Journal. She teaches courses on sustainable food systems at NYU and leads culinary walking tours for the Institute of Culinary Education. Her writing has appeared in Gastronomica, Edible East End and various academic publications.