In my last post, I offered some tips for ensuring a successful wine tasting event. In these types of events, the wine is usually the natural focal point. However, I recently got together with some friends for a stemware tasting, where the wine itself was the secondary item of consideration.
If you already have wine you love, but are upgrading or replacing your stemware, then a “stemware comparison” wine tasting event is in order. Here’s what you need to know.
Width of Mouth and Shape of Bowl
When it comes to the shape of the glass, there are two key things to note. First, you want the opening on the top to be narrow enough to hold in the aromas of the wine. Second, you want a large bowl surface area to allow the wine to open up and breathe.
The stemware experts have determined that the optimal stemware shape for white wine is narrower than that for red wine.
But whether you use the white or the red stems, the most important thing is that you want a glass that looks more like the letter “U” than the letter “V.” And in that U-shaped glass, you want the top of the letter to be narrower than the bottom.
Thickness of Glass
The paisanos in Tortilla Flat drank their red wine from canning jars, which are sometimes considered trendy at “nice” wine bars. Canning jars are definitely cost effectiveness, given that they don’t break easily! But the thick glass impairs the visibility of the wine and, believe it or not, results in your tasting a lot of glass. (Yes, Virginia, you can taste glass!) Also, a thick rim, which you find on all mass-produced glasses, degrades the tasting experience and is difficult to clean, leaving room for hygiene problems. If you want quality tastings, use quality, thin-walled, thin-rimmed wine glasses.
Composition of Stemware
Less expensive stemware generally consists of a bowl attached to a stem. The point of attachment just below the bowl eventually becomes a point of weakness that may cause the goblet to break simply through normal use. Stemware made from one solid piece of glass will be stronger in the long run.
Before I was introduced to WineShop At Home’s lead-free crystal stemware, I thought that high-end stemware could not be dishwashed. Boy, was I thrilled to discover that I was wrong. As it turns out, high-end stemware is safer in a dishwasher than low-end stemware. The reason: as discussed earlier, high-end stemware is produced from a sing piece of glass so doesn’t have a weak point that can’t handle automatic dishwashing.
The Results of Our Stemware Tasting
In our stemware test, we tested two high quality red stems. Both were lead-free crystal. Both were blown from a single piece of high-quality glass. Both had thin rims. Both had a large bowl that was larger than the opening at the top. But the glass on the left was slightly taller and narrower. The glass on the right had a much larger bowl. (The glass on the right is one that I sell from WineShop At Home. The cost for a set of four is $64.95 plus tax and shipping.)
We blindfolded the tasters and had another guest hold the wine glass so that the feel of the glass would not influence the experience.
One taster observed that the wine’s notes seemed deeper, earthier and lingered longer from the glass with the larger bowl. She expressed her tastes in terms like “forest floor” and “minerality.” For another taster, the taller, smaller-bowled glass seemed to concentrate the aromas better in the nose, resulting in a more robust “first taste.”
We tasted three different red wines in the two glasses. We all noticed a difference between the two glasses each time, but we couldn’t always say which we liked better. All we could say was that it was an incredibly interesting, educational and FUN experience!
The obvious takeaway for us was to recognize that the type of glass can strongly influence the tasting experience.
So if you are getting more serious about enjoying wine, I recommend investing in a set of higher quality stems. If you have the opportunity to do a stemware tasting before you buy, do it! It’s a great way to determine which glass works best for you.
Nice wine glasses will be more expensive, so buy the nicest type of stemware you are comfortable spending money on. If you’re going to freak out if you break a glass, it is probably too expensive.
A friend told me that she urged her husband to use an “everyday” stem one evening, to which he replied, “I’ve reached the point where this good stuff is my everyday stuff.” Congratulations!
If you’d like me to lead a stemware tasting for you, please let me know. To learn more about my tastings, please visit my Wine Tastings page.