Does the Wine Glass Matter?
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed December 12, 2001. For more information go to www.wineloverspage.com.
I didn't bring particularly high expectations when we went out to dinner last night. We were checking out a new restaurant, a family-Italian eatery run by a fast-growing Houston-based chain (Carrabba's Italian Grill) that has just opened its 100th property. My experience with franchise-type suburban eateries didn't inspire me to expect anything special.
We were pleasantly surprised, though, to find a pleasant spot with hearty dishes that, if not truly authentic Italian, was certainly in the spirit of Italian-American family fare. And - finally circling around to the wine-related point - Carrabba's won my affection by making an extra effort to get the small things right, from warmed bread plates to pepper and sea-salt grinders and cruets of quality olive oil on the tables ... and best of all, surprisingly large and attractive wine glasses.
Call me a curmudgeon, but it bothers me when a fancy restaurant kisses off wine service with undersized, overweight glasses. Cheap glassware may be durable in heavy restaurant use, but it's disappointing to have a pricey bottle of wine served in dime-store glasses. Yet many of our city's most luxurious eateries do this routinely, so it was a special pleasure to see a relatively modest franchise restaurant with an unassuming wine list get it right. (For the record, we enjoyed a Gabbiano 1999 Chianti Classico, not underpriced at $23, with our wood-oven pizza and spaghetti and meatballs.)
So what are my criteria for a good wine glass? It should be large enough to hold a reasonable serving of wine with enough space left for swirling (as discussed in Monday's Wine Advisor). It should be "tulip" shaped, with slightly inward curving edges to help hold the aromas in the glass. And it will normally have a stem to hold it by, to avoid greasy fingerprints and to keep your hands from warming the wine. It should be of clear glass or crystal; colored or opaque glass would keep you from enjoying the natural color of the wine. And, although this is not critical, thin, delicate glass conveys a sense of luxury and elegance that you don't get with a thick, heavy wine glass.
I'm not persuaded by the argument that it's necessary to keep a variety of glasses to show off specific wines (although the good folks at Riedel Crystal - unquestionably one of the highest-quality wine glasses around - sell a lot of expensive glassware in dozens of shapes and sizes). In my opinion, any reasonably good-size stemmed glass meeting the standards I've listed here should serve you well, at a restaurant or in your home.
For more information about top-quality glassware, Click here for Riedel an Austrian producer whose glassware is expensive but luxurious and fine.
Click here for Spiegelau, a German firm who produces a high-quality, comparatively affordable alternative.