A wine glass won’t change a wine, but it can dress it up. The right glass can fit over the body of a wine like a tailored suit, highlighting its unique attributes and structure, while the wrong glass can mask the finer points of a complex body like a baggy T-shirt. As Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher once wrote in The Wall Street Journal, "No glass will make a medicocre wine taste great, or a great wine taste mediocre. That said, given a choice, it is nice to have a glass that allows a wine to show its best."
The abundant variety of wine glass options at any given department store can be overwhelming. There is glass, crystal and plastic; stemmed and stemless. There are party packs for pennies on the dollar and handblown crystal goblets for $75 each. Eric Asimov explains in his New York Times column, "The investment does not have to be great, especially with equipment. You could drink wine out of juice glasses if you wish, though the experience improves greatly with good stemware, which doesn’t have to be expensive."
To make purchasing glassware even more confusing, each wine has a nature that is best emphasized by a different glass shape. “The wine glass doesn’t change anything,” says Christian Gourdin, Certified Sommelier, wine instructor and sales representative for Empire Merchants who spoke with Grape Collective. “What’s happening is that the way the glass is shaped for even or uneven distribution, the elements highlight the essence of what the wine is.”
Gourdin’s family history is steeped in the world of wine. His grandfather was a founding member of The Sommelier Society of America and established the first International Wine Society, Les Amis du Vin, in the 1960s. His father was an importer and his mother was a distributor. Christian himself spent a summer as a tour guide for Moët Champagne in Épernay, France before he went to college.
But as a recent college graduate, he was 21, drinking beer, and not looking to continue the family tradition of working with wine. That eventually changed when he decided to leave fundraising and enter the hospitality business.
Gourdin began learning about wine through an array of classes. One class had a lecture by Maximilian Riedel, 11th generation CEO and president of Riedel Crystal. A Burgundy glass, for example, “has a lip that bends out and down, so when the wine goes off the glass and into the mouth, it hits you right in the middle of the palate,” Gourdin explains. A Bordeaux glass, on the other hand, has a wide rim so when “the wine comes in your mouth it splashes all over and hits your taste buds all at once.” A Burgundy glass fits tight and shows off the best features of the wine with precision, while a Bordeaux glass lets the blend work its own way across the taste buds."
Luxury can be found in the Zalto crystal glass collection of mouth blown glasses, and can affect the way a wine is perceived. Wine Enthusiast wrote that the Denk’Art glass collection was “influenced by the earth in accordance to the tilt angles of the earth.”
“They are paper thin,” Gourdin points out. “If you look at it too hard they look like they will break. But if you open a wine and pour it into a glass, it’s going to feel like a million dollar wine, even if it’s Two Buck Chuck.”
For the casual drinker, stemless glasses are easier to clean and more difficult to break. For the picky drinker focused on specific tastes, a small collection from a reputable brand will enhance the experience. For the special occasion, the proper crystal wrapped around the proper wine is best.
At the end of the day, when the bottle is uncorked and good company is near, the glass most comfortable for the situation is the glass best for the wine.