When I first began to collaborate with Lucaris Crystal in late 2017, we quickly started discussing a potential glassware range. As both a Master of Wine and a visual artist and designer, I felt it was extra important that I rise to the challenge and that our project be boundary-pushing and different.
In approaching any design project, the most important consideration is always what problem you’re trying to solve. For me the issue with so many glassware designs is that they aim to bring out the “perfect” expression of a particular wine but the designers seem to have forgotten that perfection is deeply subjective.
To develop a more nuanced idea of perfection, we began to research systems for understanding personal preferences in ways that were intuitive rather than overly technical. I was quickly drawn to the idea of the elements, which spans several Asian cultures as well as classical western thought. Lucaris, being a Thai brand, naturally brings an Asian perspective to all its projects – its core glassware ranges are named after Asian cities – and as a Eurasian person, I liked the idea of bridging cultures.
The team at Lucaris was immediately enthused about both the concept and a potential link with my art. Before I joined the wine world, I studied painting at Yale University, and my recent work called Visual Tasting Notes explores our subjective experience of wine, charting the overall “shape” a wine makes as we taste it. Glassware is critical in molding this shape – it can exaggerate or diminish a wine’s fragrance, amplify or moderate its acidity, harden or soften its tannins.
We thought in detail about how each feature of the glass – the dimensions of the bowl, its proportions and curvature – would impact the wine’s expression. We made a few interesting observations. One was the effect of rim tightness on our perception of texture. A tight rim feels hard and angular on the lips and exaggerates this effect in the wine, while a flared rim makes us perceive the wine as rounded and soft. Another was that tight concave curves in the glass – we called them “waists” – help to hold in aromas while the wine sits in the glass, but then releases aromas as wine flows over the curves on its way to the mouth.
We combined these features to create five unique shapes corresponding with five elements we chose from Ayurveda, Traditional East Asian Medicine and ancient Greek philosophy: Air, Water, Fire, Earth and Gold. Each glass emphasizes its “element” in the wine: Air brings out fragrance, Water brings out freshness, Fire brings out boldness, Earth brings out roundness and Metal brings out brilliance. Each glass is designed for use with any wine style – white, red, rosé, even sparkling, sweet or fortified.
An added benefit is that the system of elements should make food pairing, always challenging in Asia, easier to navigate. Cuisines, like personalities, can often be fit into element-based categories: sashimi is cool and subtle like water and thus a suitable wine pairing would probably also be fresh and subtle.
To create these unique, highly specific shapes, we quickly agreed we needed to work with hand blowers. This was a new horizon for Lucaris, which up until now has worked exclusively with machine-blown crystal. We believe that people who have deep respect for wine and want to experience it in the best way possible for them will gladly invest in top quality, especially since these multipurpose glasses allow you to cover all your needs with just one or two designs. I couldn’t be more excited that the collection is finally hitting the market this month!
Wine glasses are a big part of the culture and theatre of wine – one of the first things you notice about a fine dining restaurant, particularly a western-style one – is the glassware on the table. If a friend hands you a glass of wine on your way into a party, the quality of the glass she hands you will say a lot about the wine inside.
While it may seem like this is placing too much weight on presentation, in reality the quality of the glass has a significant impact on the way you experience the wine. Thus it is well worth spending some time understanding the key signs of quality so you can be sure you’re not missing out on a great experience by using glassware that’s not up to standard.
The first point to consider is clarity. Just like when we taste wine, our eyes are the first tools we use to judge the quality of a glass. A wineglass made from crystal (which contains lead) or crystalline glass (which does not) will have much greater brilliance and clarity than one made from soda-lime glass (the type of glass used for windows, most bottles and jars). Imperfections like bubbles or a noticeable blue or green tint are another sign that an inferior raw material has been used. Another way to detect whether the glass is made of crystal or glass is to tap widest part of the bowl with your fingernail – it should make a beautiful ringing sound like a bell. Crystal is much more durable than glass and therefore is less likely to chip or crack over time.
The second point to consider is weight. Although crystal and crystalline glass are denser than glass, their added strength means that they can be blown super thin and so crystal glasses can be much thinner and lighter than glass ones. The distribution of weight is also really important: the base should be heavy and wide so that the glass doesn’t tip over easily. However, the weight of the base and the weight of the bowl must be balanced so that the glass is comfortable to hold and to swirl. Embellished cut crystal wine glasses are often beautiful to look at but they add a lot of weight and can obscure the wine in the glass.
The third key place to look for wine glass quality is the rim. A rolled rim, which is clearly noticeable as it is thicker than the bowl below it, gives a less refined experience than a laser-cut rim. To experience this effect more clearly, exaggerate it by drinking wine out of a thick mug with a rounded lip: the wine will seem thick and clumsy. However, a laser cut rim is more fragile than a rolled one and so the glass needs to be made out of high quality crystal to ensure it doesn’t chip too easily.
Another point of interest is whether the glass is hand blown or machine blown. Hand blowing is a highly skilled craft practiced by an increasingly small group of trained artisans and is much more time-consuming than machine blowing, so hand blown glasses are more expensive. However, machine blown quality has improved so much over the years that these days most companies are using machines for standard shapes. For unique shapes, however, hand blowing is sometimes the only option as it’s only worthwhile to create a new mould for a glassblowing machine if the product run is large. An insider tip for how to spot a machine blown vs a hand blown glass is that there is may be a very subtle indent on the bottom of the base of machine blown glasses, but often only trained glassblowers can detect it.
Just to be clear, what we’ve discussed only relates to quality and doesn’t relate to shape. I personally feel strongly that there is no ideal glass for each wine – drinking a Riesling out of a Bordeaux glass if you like the effect is not going to “ruin” the wine. It’s all a matter of personal taste and setting. Hold that thought for later this month, when I’ll be introducing the new collection I developed with Lucaris Crystal. Stay tuned!
Most people who regularly enjoy wine recognise that using special glasses designed for wine is important. Although you can drink wine out of a glass tumbler or even a plastic cup, the enjoyment is much greater with a tulip shaped crystal wine glass with at least a short stem. For an introduction to the different components of the wine glass and why they matter, please see my video. If you know that you want to invest in some high-quality glasses but you don’t know where to begin, here are some tips:
What is Your Lifestyle? First, think about your overall lifestyle: what is your budget, how much space do you have for storage and how much time are you willing to spend taking care of your glasses? Hand blown glasses are made by highly trained artisans and so they are naturally more expensive than machine blown. If the idea of losing several hundred kuai every time you break a glass breaks your heart, or if you want to have a huge collection of different shapes, I recommend machine blown, which can also be very high in quality.
Second, storage: glasses need to be stored in a well-ventilated space where they will not pick up strange smells or, worse, mold if they don’t dry properly. You need to think about what your storage capacity is given you may need two separate areas to dry and then store your glasses. If you don’t have that much space, consider a hanging rack where the glasses can dry and then be stored until you use them next.
Third, time: many hand blown glasses need to be cleaned by hand and can’t go in the dishwasher. Also, if you live in a place with hard water (i.e. with high levels of minerals), you may need to polish the glasses before using them, so make sure that you pick glasses that you can easily fit your hand inside. If all of this sounds like too much trouble, I recommend picking a glass that will drip-dry easily (usually one with a wider mouth). Try: Lucaris Shanghai Soul Burgundy
How Will You Use Them? Next, think about how you’re likely to use the glasses: how frequently, in what setting, and what the format is going to be. If you are planning on using the glasses daily, there are two ways of thinking about it. If you’re a casual everyday drinker, you probably want sturdy glasses so that you don’t have to worry about them too much. Look for glasses with heavier bases, thicker bowls and shorter stems. However, if you aim to become a fine wine connoisseur and frequently drink top quality wine, think of the cost of the glasses as a tiny surcharge on every bottle of wine you enjoy out of them. You owe it to yourself to present your wines properly, just like you would never buy a Matisse Cut-Out then slap it in a frame from Ikea. If you only plan on using the glasses for special occasions, I would pick something in between; something special enough that it feels like a celebration – a top-quality machine blown glass feels like the right balance.
Think about the setting: do you plan on using your glasses only at home for drinking alone, in which case the choice of glass will depend mainly on what kind of wine you like to drink? Or are you planning on using them for guests and parties, in which case maybe you want something more sturdy so that if people break them they don’t feel too guilty? If you’re looking for glasses for using outside, I would even consider a stemless wineglass since the most likely thing to break when you’re transporting them is the stem.
Finally, think about the format: are you likely to stick to just one glass over the course of the evening, in which case you can be free to pick the shape and size you like? Or, do you frequently have many wines on the table at once that require several different glasses? When I go to friends’ houses for dinner we will usually each have 5 or 6 glasses, so it’s sensible to pick a shape and size that isn’t going to cause a traffic jam on the table. Otherwise, think about glasses with bowls at different heights so they can fit together efficiently.
What Do You Like to Drink? The last thing to consider is your specific wine choices. Whether you usually drink red wine, white wine or other styles, it’s worth thinking realistically about your own drinking patterns. Many people see the diverse range of glass styles available and assume they need to have all of them, but in reality most wines will work in most glass styles, so you only need a few.
If you tend to drink a lot of red wines, it is important to make sure you have at least one style that has a big, spacious bowl to expose the wine to plenty of oxygen. This helps the wine release its aromas and softens the tannin texture. If you drink a lot of young wine, a glass with a wide, flat-based bowl can act like a decanter and quickly expose the wine to the air. Older wines are best served in glasses that have a relatively tight rim to hold in their aromas. Try: Lucaris Desire Elegant Red
If you are more of a white wine person, it’s a good idea to make sure you have two different styles of glass that match different white wine styles. A smaller tulip shaped glass (often called a “Riesling” glass) is great for younger, fresh styles of white that need to stay cool and crisp. This is also a great solution for rosé wine. A wider, more spherical shape (often called a “Burgundy” glass) actually works really well for fuller-bodied or fragrant white wines as well, since it provides plenty of room for them to release their aromas. Try: Lucaris Tokyo Temptation Riesling or Desire Rich White
For special styles, I have a few pointers. One is that you don’t necessarily need sparkling wine flutes. While they have a great celebratory look, help preserve bubbles and are very efficient for serving at cocktail events and parties, they aren’t the best for expressing the aromatic character of more complex sparkling wines. If you love luxury sparkling wines, do them a favour and put them in a small white wine glass. Try: Lucaris Desire Crisp White
Sweet wines often strike a delicate balance between sweetness and acidity, so to help them seem fresh and bright, it’s often a good idea to pick a glass that keeps them cool and emphasizes the acidity, like the “Riesling” glass described above. They already tend to have very powerful aromas, so the wider, flatter style glasses used to emphasize aromatic wines are not necessary and can even warm the wine too quickly, making it seem flat. Try: Lucaris Bangkok Bliss Riesling
Finally, fortified wines are highly aromatic and powerful and need to be given plenty of room to express their personalities. Red fortified wines like vintage port also need oxygen to help mellow their tannins, so a large glass is especially beneficial. However, because the aromas are so intense and the alcohol is higher than normal, a glass with a taller bowl (like a classic “Bordeaux” glass) is a good idea to keep you from accidentally overwhelming your nose. Try: Lucaris Hong Kong Hip Bordeaux
Whatever your needs, the best approach is always to stick to quality over quantity and just choose one or two shapes that really appeal to you. If you’re anything like me, you’ll often find yourself ignoring the guidance about which glass to match to which wine and simply picking the ones you most enjoy the look and feel of again and again.
Following hot on the heels of Vinexpo madness, June was a rapid-fire blast starting off with my little man’s first birthday, a quick jaunt to Vienna for Vievinum (and of course Burg Bernstein) then Paris for the handover of Dom Pérignon, then back home again to recover before July’s rash of travel. Am feeling very excited about the two new Almásy wines we have added to the six in the collection. Meanwhile, a few new partnerships are in the works although not yet ready to be announced. Working on locations for a first Visual Tasting Notes show and/or book – again, watch this space!
Having firmly committed to spending the month of May at home and recovering from March and April’s travels (among which was my first trip to India: an absolute stunner – I’m completely won over!), I nonetheless remember May as a series of increasingly debauched episodes culminating in the breakneck week of Vinexpo.
Highlights included the ’38, ’58, ’78 birthday party of a trio of friends with the very healthy ratio of 2-3 bottles per person, spending time with two pillars of the Spanish wine industry – Miguel Torres and Pablo Alvarez – as well as Jean-Luc Pepin of de Vogüé, Hein Koegelenberg of La Motte and Greg Lambrecht of Coravin, launching the Almásy Collection, joining the Knights of Alba and announcing my appointment as faculty of the Vinitaly International Academy. Meanwhile have been delving further and further into my Visual Tasting Notes project, on which more in the coming months!
Though I was feeling mildly guilty for skipping March, thanks to the absolute chaos that was April I’m beginning to feel a bit like March just missed me. Since our return from the snowier climes of WA State, we’ve moved house, I’ve dashed off to Thailand to visit my good friends at Lucaris and keep working on our new collection, puttered off to Austria to get cracking on picking wines for the Almásy Selection, judged around 250 Italian wines for 5StarWines (many concocted from such grapes as, among others, Cagnulari, Ribona and Foglia Tonda) then sidled down to the Amalfi Coast to do a little filming for Wine Masters, Season 1 of which is due on iTunes, Amazon and more any minute now! Next week: India. But for now, a moment of vinous reminiscence:
February was an unusually snowy one for this little Hong Kong family: one of us (not me) managed to get out on the slopes a respectable six times, another of us (again, not me) got in his first ever snow frolic and our snowman, once a respectable 5 feet tall, morphed over the course of the month into a heap only Jabba the Hutt’s mother could love. Still, the contrarian in me balks at the idea of heavy wine for heavy sweater season, so this is what we drank instead:
If I claimed the days leading up to doomsday (aka MW exam results day) weren’t filled with blistering anxiety about this column, it would be one of the larger untruths I’ve ever attempted. As the day approached, my ego amused itself with fantasies of writing about another subject entirely (rootstocks or something), slipping “oh, and I didn’t pass” in the last sentence and hoping nobody noticed.
Anybody who’s studied something for long enough can likely empathize with my conundrum. No matter how much love you bear a subject to start with, by the time you are several years in, the topic – however sexy – has lost its luster.
The origin story of this week’s column is especially dear to me because it is an ode to the bliss of a Master of Wine student’s post-exam life. You see, in order to preserve the sensitivity of my olfactory instrument (nose), I swore off perfume for about two and a half years (with, I confess, the occasional guilty lapse on very special occasions, like non-wine dinners).