So now that you’ve brown bagged it for a week, collected all the spare change in the auto
ashtray and hidden in the deep recesses of the sofa and even may have “borrowed” some from the
significant other, you’ve finally splurged on that nice bottle of Champagne or that luscious
Opus One or maybe even that aged white Burgundy from the neighborhood wine shop. You
already have that special occasion when you’ll uncork that liquid beauty. Perhaps planned a nice
dinner or maybe just extravagant appetizers. What else is there? What vessels are you drinking
these gems from? Hopefully not the recycled jelly glasses or even the “fine” stemware you’ve
accumulated from trips to Napa Valley.
While Salma Hayek may still look exquisite in jeans and t-shirt and a Ferrari F430 still can raise
your heart rate even when parked at a trailer park, wine does lose something if not served in the
proper drinking vessel.
The Standard Bearer
When it comes to wine specific stemware, most wine enthusiasts will name Riedel (rhymes with
needle) as the standard by which all others are (or should be) compared. Since the Riedel family
started glassmaking in the 18th century with 9th generation patriarch Claus Riedel making wine
specific stemware, it’s no wonder that the Riedel family had a “head start” with stemware.
Currently Georg Riedel (10th generation) and his son Maximilian Riedel (11th generation) run
the family business.
I attended a wine tasting seminar in Hawaii led by none other than the 9th generation owner,
Georg Riedel. The tasting was 2 hours long (it even ran a little overtime) and it simply consisted
of Riedel’s stemware tasting set – a glass for Cabernet, one for Pinot Noir, one for Chardonnay
and one for Sauvignon Blanc along with the comparator glass, the Libby wine glass (the logo
wine glasses you find at Napa Valley wineries). Mr. Riedel had us try each of the wines in all five
glasses and while I previously enjoyed using Riedel stemware before, I was surprised when you
tried the same wine side-by-side in each glass. There was a noticeable difference, especially with
the red wines.
Eleventh generation owner, Maximilian is credited with developing the “O” line of Riedel
glassware – you notice that I didn’t describe it as stemware since there are no stems with these
glasses, just the bowl. According to his father, since Max is President of the American division of
Riedel, he needed wine glasses that didn’t take up a lot of cabinet space since he lives in New
York where living space is at a premium (I find it hard to believe that the 11th generation owner
could only afford a small condo in New York).
If you do want to try the Riedel line of crystal ware, be forewarned that they make over 50
varieties of glasses. From your basic grape varietal glasses (Cab, Pinot, Chard, etc) to specific
wine (aged white Burgundy, aged Sauternes, etc) to various liquor glasses (their Single Malt
glasses are great with any type of whiskey).
The Riedel line starts at about $8 for their O and Wine lines, $15 to $20 for their Vinum line up
to $50 for their hand-blown Sommelier line.
Schott Zwiesel Titanium
Just mention Titanium and I’m there. Whether its titanium bicycle frames or titanium jewelry
or titanium crystal stemware… Wait, isn’t the finest crystal made from lead crystal. Yes but lead
crystal isn’t the only crystal stemware. The Schott Zwiesel Company has a proprietary titanium
crystal that is lighter, just as brilliant and more durable than lead crystal. And for those worried
about lead leaching into your finest Burgundies and Cabernets (ala Proposition 65), titanium
crystal is lead free. The biggest selling point for titanium crystal though is its durability. They
supposedly can go through 1000 cycles in the dishwasher without losing any brilliance. Heck,
just being able to put your crystal in the dishwasher is a miracle in itself. This durability also
extends to the most fragile points in a lead crystal based glass – the rim and the points where the
stem connects to the bowl and the base. I personally have fractured several lead crystal glasses
from simple hand wiping.
Schott Zwiesel’s line includes their high end Enoteca line (~$35 per glass), custom designed Top
Ten line (~$15 per glass) and basic Forte line (~$10 per glass) so you can choose a glass that fits
Eisch Breathable Crystal
The latest player in the high end crystal business is the Eisch company which produces lead free
crystal that “opens” up the wine within a couple of minutes. Their proprietary crystal making
process allows wines to attain the same level of oxygenation during decanting that normally
would take 1 to 2 hours to occur within 2 to 4 minutes in their stemware.
I recently received a gift of the Red, White and Champagne breathable crystal stemware and
immediately did a side by side comparison with my Riedel Cabernet glass. The Cabernet I chose
was a Whitehall Lane Reserve 2002, lots of concentrated fruit right up front with a good dose
of tannins on the back end. Upon uncorking the wine, I immediately poured the same amount
in each glass and waited 4 minutes. The nose in the Riedel glass produced more perfumed, fruit
qualities in the Whitehall Lane than the Eisch but after sipping, the Eisch stemware definitely
softened the tannins. With the Riedel glass, the Cabernet tasted like a young Cab would, the
Eisch made it seem like a Cab with several years of aging. After the bottle had been opened for 1
hour, the wine loosened up a bit in the Riedel though it was still a lot softer in the Eisch.
The Eisch breathable line of stemware runs ~ $15 to $20 so it’s in the range as the Riedel Vinum
For starters, you don’t need to spend $50 for individual stemware nor do you need to purchase
stemware for every single grape varietal. What you should look for is stemware that has a deep
enough bowl to swirl wine without sprinkling fellow diners and a thin wall whether its glass or
crystal (recycle your thick walled stemware as candle votives). If you don’t mind spending $10
for stemware, I recommend a set of Schott Zwiesel titanium crystal flutes for Champagne and if
you’re space challenged, a set of either the Riedel O Sake or Sauvignon Blanc glasses. If you’re
willing to spend a little more and drink a lot of hearty young red wines, consider Eisch’s
breathable red wine glass or for all around tasting, Riedel’s Zinfandel glass. My personal favorite
all purpose glass is the Riedel Zinfandel. Deep enough to swirl, skinny enough to fit 4 glasses
deep in a cabinet and at ~$15, affordable enough to purchase a complete set. I also read
somewhere that Georg Riedel stated that if he were limited to only one of his stemware, it
would be the Zinfandel. Good enough for him, good enough for me.
Toss Those Paper Cups!