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!