April 8, 2006 / Sponsored Content / Red, White, & Bubbly

To Stem or Not to Stem?

The Brooklyn Paper
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Glasses can often do much more than simply serve as the vessels we use to enjoy our wine. A clear glass shows off the color of the wine served in it. Years of experimentation have shown us that different wines do taste better when drunk from differently sized and shaped glasses. One of the world’s most widely known glassmakers put on a demonstration for us during the international Sommelier competition in Tokyo: we each had his Red Bordeaux, Red Burgundy and White Burgundy glasses in front of us. A waiter came to the table, presented a bottle of Bordeaux, opened it and poured about an ounce into each glass. The difference was astounding! I have repeated this exercise dozens of times, and everyone, even the most skeptical, agrees that the difference that glassware makes can be amazing.

No one, other than an insufferable wine snob, will tell you that you need a full set of glasses for every wine, and common sense as well as budget should rule over your purchases. You can find wine glasses in the size, shape and style that you like, and are “right” for the wines that you drink, at any price point. An ‘all purpose” wine glass is right for most of us. What makes a wine glass good?

Clarity. You should be able to see the color of the wine you’re drinking, not only for sensual enjoyment, but to determine the condition of the wine. An off-color wine is often a spoiled wine.

Shape. Round, so that you can swirl the wine, coating the inside of the glass to better enjoy the aromas and bouquet. A bowl that is wider than the opening at the top is ideal for concentrating the bouquet, too.

Size. Large enough that four or five ounces fills the glass less than halfway. This also allows you to better enjoy the aromas of the wine. Pick a size that you are comfortable with. There are some mouth-blown glasses on the market that seem just too big to drink from. They also look like someone’s idea of a joke to play on a wine lover who takes it all a bit too seriously. These expensive behemoths also tend to break quite easily.

The rim. Your wine will taste better if the rim of the glass is thin. A thick rimmed glass may be more chip resistant, but your wine won’t taste as good from it.

The stem. In ancient times, glass was expensive, and most people could not afford a glass to drink from. Wood, earthenware and metal were used by almost everybody. Having glassware on the table was a sign of wealth. This changed during the Eighteenth Century, when mass produced glassware became affordable. The shapes made mimicked the glasses already in use in noble households, where the idea of a stemmed glass was considered proper.

The stem serves several purposes: when you hold a glass by the stem, the glass stays clean of fingerprints. The heat from your hands does not warm the wine when you use the stem. (Cognac glasses are designed so that your hand wraps around them, the better to warm the brandy.) Young ladies and gentlemen are taught from an early age that it is “proper” to hold a glass by the stem, and this training is hard to break.

So... what’s going on with stemless wine glasses? The stem is often the weakest part of the glass: I’ve lost dozens of glasses over the years from breaking stems. This, obviously, isn’t a problem with stemless glasses. Some people with limited cabinet space like the compact size of the stemless tumblers, too... and they do lend a casual air to your wine drinking. I’ve been in little trattorias and bistros in the countryside where the local wines were served in small tumblers, and it was part of the charm of the experience. I don’t recommend them for a formal dining table, but for everyday meals, snacks or just relaxed sipping, the stemless glasses are affordable, fun and fine.

P.S. I use the smaller sized Chardonnay one for my brandy. It works great!

This paid feature is prepared by Red White & Bubbly,
211 Fifth Ave. (between Union and President streets) in Park Slope. Phone (718) 636-9463.
“Fine wines, great spirits, no attitude!”
Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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