In my recent column on the Alta Langa sparkling wine region of Piedmont, Italy, I came across a story about a wine glass that had been designed specifically for the wines of the region. Made by the German Spiegelau glass producer, the stunning glass was designed by Giugiaro Design, the firm of Italian auto design legend (you know, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati amongst many more) Sir Giorgetto Giugiaro, who happens to hail from the Cuneo region of Piedmont. He is someone you would expect to know the wines of Piedmont well.
Though the sparkling wines of Alta Langa are very similar to those of Champagne in grapes (pinot noir and chardonnay)and production method (metodo classic), the glass, dubbed the “Grande,” is distinctly different in shape and appearance. Sir Giorgetto himself, according to the Alta Langa website, illustrated the various steps undertaken during the creation of this glass. The “Grande,” he noted, “has a narrow base to facilitate (the) bursting of the bubbles towards the top of the glass, where it widens to enhance the scents of the wine.” This, in contrast to the traditional flute shape that is recommended for Champagne.
I love a great wine glass almost as much as I love a great glass of wine.
There is something special about holding a well-made, well-balanced, glass in your hand, tilting it toward your nose, sniffing the wine inside and eventually bringing it to your lips for the first sip. Sure, you can do that with any glass. A juice jar will hold and convey liquid from a bottle to your mouth. But, as is the case with the Alta Langa Grande glass, a great wine glass serves as a vessel to take you on a journey to the very origins of a bottle of wine.
With just a little bit of attention to detail, your wine experience can be greatly enhanced by using proper stemware — the word aficionados use to describe their glasses — for your wine. So what is “proper stemware?” It depends. If you have the space, the money and the inclination, then there are myriad options. Even if you just need a half-dozen glasses in your kitchen for everyday drinking, there are still a few things to consider.
For example, there is school of thought that insists, rightly so I believe, that shape matters. A great Burgundy or pinot noir is best served in a large, well-rounded bowl with a distinct narrowing at the top. This allows the floral aromas to be captured in the glass and collect, so that when you put your nose in and inhale …Nirvana. Bordeaux is better served in a taller, less rounded, though still tapered glass that directs the bolder wine to that spot on your palate that provides the most bang for the buck. And the aforementioned Champagne flute provides the visual dimension of showcasing the bubbles as they rise to the top.
That said, there are dozens of shapes of stemware made for wine geeks that may or may not improve the actual taste of a glass of wine for most people. While you may not need them all, or even most, to enjoy a selection of different wines, if you can afford to hoard stemware, more power to you.
For the majority of wines, a glass with a bowl large enough so that you can swirl without spilling, that is slightly tapered at the top with a thin-ish rim, that is made from quality crystal or glass, and, most importantly, is clean, will meet or exceed your expectations. Look for something in your budget and try to pay attention to the makers who specialize in the production of fine wine glasses, like Riedel from Austria, and purchase their generic, everyday lines.
While I subscribe to the belief that specialty glasses work best with specific wines, 95% of the time I drink my wine out of five glasses (yes, there were once six) that I bought over a decade ago at the Simon Pierce glassmaking factory in Quechee, Vermont. These glasses were “seconds” from the store in the factory because they were deformed or irregular in some way. Today they are perhaps my most perfect possessions.
With the general shape of a Bordeaux glass, they are thick and heavy. Each, because they were seconds, is unique or individual, if you will. But what makes them so beloved is not just the feel in my hand or how they display my wines, it is the sound each makes when they are clinked together in a toast. An indescribable, joyful ring escapes from each glass as well wishes are passed between friends.
So what makes a perfect wine glass? Just like wine, it’s the one that you like the best.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at [email protected].