The state of wine glassware today (2019) is that so many places or events is that wine glassware is either unimportant or an afterthought. Our current state of wine glassware is one of disappointment or solutions that are profoundly expensive.
While our wine selections in even a short period of time has improved in just a generation is compelling and amazing. As an example of improved wine selections availability is on or off-premise are Sicilian wines which a generation ago (14 years) I would have struggled to find a single label of Sicilian wine in San Francisco. But today there is vast improvement in wine producers selections in the market place–is it perfect? No, but it is but much better than it has ever been. I think there is a state of continuous improvement that is needed for wine as not all wine regions are available.
And then there is need for a vast leap of improvement for wine glassware design, quality, pricing and distribution.
The best place to begin a discussion on glassware is to look at trade/media master classes. I have been to dozens and overall I have found the presentation and content to be “good” to “very well done” but the wines are not getting the true appreciation that I think they deserve. Last Fall (2018) I attended a master classes of two very well regarded appellations and the information presented quite good but the wines I thought uniform to un-interesting. I had to stop and I said to myself “wait… this is from appellation X and Y” I love these two wine regions and adore each bottle I get to taste. Each wine I tasted was linear and uninteresting… wines were from both well-known and lesser known producers. It’s not the wine… it is the wine glasses masking the beauty of each drop of wine poured.
I will not mention these specific master classes as I want to keep that information confidential as this event is amongst many others with the same issue. Non wine glass sponsored events promise to not highlight wines in non-optimum vessels. I think that glassware is so important that it elevates and makes a wine event or master class successful and worse when it is a substandard glass that the journalist or wine enthusiast walks away with little or unfavouable impressions.
Why is it specifically about a poorly designed, mass-produced wine glass that makes for a less-than-successful wine experience?
- Bowl is not optimized – too narrow, not long enough
- Rim does not allow for proper smelling of wine – tapered inward with little access for nose
- Rim is at a ninety degree angle to bottom of bowl which will not capture the nose of the wine but instead doesn’t translate the molecules to the nose; it also makes a swirl a promise to spill the wine
- Lower portion of the bowl is too flat–which limits swirling capability, so while the wine molecules are doing their part during swirling state; it hides or does not express the wine fully
- Novel and non-functioning designs – a flute is pretty but it does not allow for full senses appreciation – bubbles look great but that is as good as it gets
- The coupe dissipates any scent opportunity–swirling strictly prohibited Beautiful but it does not work to showcase a sparkling wine
- Mass produced wine glasses – if it is too shallow there is a bounce back of a singular note–no other complex notes can be highlighted. I would say most wine glasses I have experience in North America are of this flavour
- Material can come into play and specifically a glass and non-crystal or specialised material can perform poorly by not being able to be washed too often in the dishwasher and simply don’t look or feel good; or doesn’t allow for the transfer to palate and nose seamlessly
I would say north of 90% of wine events need a leap of improvement. Wine producers should be more active in making sure when they serve wines at an event it can accurately capture the wine poured. Producers could be, I believe, a bit more demanding and I think this request is not abnormal but absolutely important request.
Wine trade organizations or consortiums that are pouring/presenting their wines should have their PR agency or wine educator to request either a specific glass or at least object to a style that may not fit their wines. As a wine trade organization or consortium they should ask PR agency or wine educator for a wine glass to inspect and approve. I do know that wine educators buy a lot of wine glasses and could have them readily available for inspection. I know a wine educator who looks for the least expensive and pays about a $1 a stem or less–they are constantly on the look out for cheap wine glasses–basically they are mass produced and not well designed glasses for wine. I have asked why they buy these glass and why they haven’t looked at contracting with a reputable wine glass producer for, at least, a restaurant quality version. Their response signaled to me is they needed the lowest priced glass possible is what they prefer.
On premise (restaurants and bars) have no reason why they cannot guarantee higher quality wine glassware. While most if not all somm-lead on premise businesses tend to have better glassware. But those that don’t have a professional wine director or somm often have less-than-optimum glassware. I have experienced in one of San Francisco oldest restaurants that I like to dine and has very nice food but the glassware is appalling–in this restaurant’s example is not just a quality issue it is an issue pouring many glasses per bottle 6 to 1. I want to go to this restaurant for their very nice Cioppino but immediately the entire experience is not optimum. I have not brought my own glass though as tempting as it might be–it is not what I should be doing based on what I pay for the wine. If I am paying a 50 to 100% markup and I do expect the cost to insure the proper vessel–after all I am paying a premium. I am surprised any restaurant serving wine chooses a poor wine glass. What does this cost? I think twice about going back to that restaurant as a consumer. I also think that a restaurant is leaving a potential customer dollar spend on the table–the customer leaves without another glass or even bottle purchase. The intrigue and delight is not there for the restaurant patron. I have been served wine in a French jelly jar just last month in a San Francisco restaurant. First, I never suffer in silence–I do ask for an alternative–but I have never had a single request turn into better wine glass. I think it is important to give direct feedback to a restaurant regardless of what they might do.
And while a restaurant might have good stemware their offering might dictate great stemware. As an example, I was at a tasting menu where (and with wine) it was easily a $400 per person experience. I wanted high-end glassware–Zalto should have been part of their wine programme but it wasn’t. If there is a high-priced meal the customer deserves the best experience possible.
I think of every time I step foot in Champagne I have never had one single substandard glass regardless of where I dined or tasted wines solely. I remember dining at Le Bois Joli in Saint-Imoges north of Épernay–there is no equivalent in the US that represents this experience. Saint-Imoges is not exactly Épernay and yet the food, the service and the serving pieces and glassware are outstanding–portions that were easily equivalent to a full days of eating (breakfast, lunch and dinner) impeccable and stellar glassware and serve wear that was equally impressive. It is nice to have your Caussolet served in an individual serving bowl from Le Creuset and nonetheless in my favourite colour: orange. This restaurant, of course, served the best of food and wine and cares about it’s presentation because it is in Champagne.
I cannot quite compare Le Bois Joli to a Napa or Yountville restaurant –it would be like driving up in a rural part of a northern California wine country and finding a fine restaurant standing alone in a small village which Yountville would not be that village. Champagne is always tops of mind for a great presentation.
I think the quest for the perfect or near perfect remains elusive; and not just design but material, price point, quality of stemware and accessibility is not an easy proposition even in today’s marketplace. Most individual consumers still buy wine glasses on brand and consumers are still not always happy with what they are getting. Regardless people and it is a normal thing to feel greater disappointment when a very expensive glass is broken than a lesser expensive one.
I am buying fewer super expensive wine glasses $50-100 because breaking one is well…. heart breaking. I do find one silhouette amazingly difficult to find at a reasonable price point. A tulip wine glass for sparkling wine is elusive–I have found a “cheaper” version but it does not dazzle me or I do not feel a sense of satisfaction. This silhouette is elusive and yet I do think of a better design suited to sparkling wine.
My viewers on my YouTube wine channel consume my wine glass videos at a 4.5x greater rate than the average view of my total wine videos. My second most watched video (showing a few below) is at 8,500 clicks which in wine video parlance is superbly difficult to reach. Like all other videos, I hope and plan for all to be a success and yet this is one that I would never have suspected to do so well as it did. The data suggests there is a much greater interest in wine glassware for very practical purposes. It suggests a wine consumer who wants to learn all they can and perhaps drive towards a solution for their table top.
I have long advocated for a better silhouette compelled with unparalleled elegance and leanness in design at a smart price point and good material–this is not found in today’s market place. Not only do I think there is an opportunity for great design there is a proposition for better material, accessibility and price point.
Nonetheless I have so much more to say about glassware in future articles!
The Good: (L) Holmegaard sparkling wine glass, (M) Tulip (not certain of brand) and (R) Holmegaard Burgundy glass
The Bad: (L) a 90-Degree angle (M) A non-angle rim glass and (R) mass produced glass
The Ugly: I don’t know anything about these mass produced glasses; just that they are poor performers
Below are videos I have completed on specific glassware as well as general comments.
James the Wine Guy
Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.
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