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. â€œA wine like this deserves the right glass! You need to build your collection.â€
I was taken aback. Iâ€™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 friendâ€™s next visit, I resolved, I would have the perfect wineglass for whatever bottle he brought over.
Easier said than done. Itâ€™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 fragilityâ€”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 worldâ€™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 Cityâ€™s Veritas, says he became a believer after tasting Opus One (a Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine) in both Cabernet and Pinot Noir glasses. â€œThe engineering is correct,â€ he says. â€œIt works, and it makes a difference.â€
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 â€œfeminineâ€ qualities.