Modern stemware is the equivalent of a pushup bra. Well nothing wrong with that. Few of us when faced with the bare truth are so disenchanted we turn on Leno instead.
The point of a pushup bra is to accentuate the positive and without a doubt the modern stem does this.
I think Riedel’s insight – to design a bowl for every style of wine – was a stroke of design genius that deserves to be in MOMA. Riedel literally revolutionized the stemware business, (thus becoming the Victoria’s Secret of stemware).
Having said that, you need to pay at least as much attention to how you live, entertain and drink as to the need for the ‘proper’ wine glass. My sister gave us a couple of champagne flutes that look beautiful but I’m a klutz. The stems are so tall I distrust their centre of gravity.
Do you spend your life in fear of the environment poisoning you? Lead was originally added to crystal for clarity. (Lead oxide is white.) It also made glass tougher, lending crystal a rubbery consistency.
Thirty years ago, a scientist with too much time on his hands measured the lead content of his Glen Skunky stored in a crystal decanter. He was horrified to discover lead had leached into his booze.
Although the likelihood of lead dissolving into your wine after less than an hour in the glass is pretty much nil, if you’re one of those folks who worry about this stuff you want to avoid leaded crystal. (Actually you should avoid drinking red wine altogether as it’s loaded with minerals.) Of more interest is that the replacements for lead give the glass different mechanical properties.
Eisch has patented a breathable glass. Mikasa, Orrefors, Boda, and every other traditional crystal maker produce gorgeous looking glasses available in traditional bowls and in knock-offs of the Riedel shapes using various materials including – in some jurisdictions – lead.
I have friends in Australia who only hand-wash the morning after, as did I until I ascended into the Dishwasher Owning class. Nor was washing the only source of trouble. I remember a particular evening a long time ago, when a friend attempted to juggle three Rosenthal snifters. Since then I’ve broken literally dozens of stems.
Schott Zwiesel stems are tougher than most – they’ve replaced lead with titanium and zirconium oxide – and if I were still running my swinging bachelor pad this might be a deal maker.
Dishwashers are less punitive on stems than I am, although we had one dishwasher that ate crystal like a carnie. (We ended up with Mexican stems made from recycled glass.) I find some stems are impossible for me to handwash. Schott Zwiesel in particular has such small openings I can’t get my fingers inside the bowl.
But back to taste and the perfect stem, Riedel insight was to shape the bowl to land the wine on the ‘appropriate’ part of the tongue for the wine in question. They also shorten or lengthen the bowl, choking or opening the chimney to attenuate the bouquet.
I had an argument with Max Riedel about his bourbon glass and his vintage port glass neither of which provided me with the expected taste spectrum. (He agreed with me about the bourbon – the design parameter was set by Jim Beam – but he politely told me to soak my head and try the port glass again.)
Not only do the glasses provide specific taste profiles, they are designed and most often utilized in particular conditions. What about humidity? Napa, Barossa, and Southern Ontario humidity is about twice that of Saskatoon’s. Bouquet travels a whole lot further in those tasting rooms than in a Sask dining room.
For these reasons I sometimes disagree with the ‘official’ wine glass. Heck, I’ll skip falsies to go with the natural look and drink from a plexi tumbler – the official wine glass of Tuscan trattorias.
If you worry what wine snob friends think of your choice of glass, you probably should stick with Riedel. (And they have another brilliant design the ‘O’ series that has the same bowl shape but no stems easing dishwasher use.)
I like Eisch for big reds, Riedel for whites, and sundry crystal manufacturers for the rest. Our martini glasses are Mikasa and I am willing to drink water in ‘em just for the pleasure of looking at them.