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A Guide to Buying Stemware

From the basics to the big splurges

Fine Cooking Issue 78
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Shopping for wineglasses can be intimidating. All those sizes. All those shapes. Which ones do you really need? While the right glassware can definitely heighten your perception and enjoyment of a wine, there’s no need to rush out and purchase several sets of expensive crystal in all sorts of shapes. For the most part, one set—or maybe two—of good all-purpose glasses is all you need. And many high-quality glasses are surprisingly affordable.

The two essentials: a goblet and a flute

Wine glass styles break down into two basic styles: goblets and flutes. If you’re setting out to purchase your first set of stemware, goblets are a must. And if you serve sparkling wine, you need flutes, too.

Flutes are tall, narrow glasses used for sparkling wine and Champagne. The long, slender bowl shows off the tiny bubbles as they trail to the surface. And the narrow opening focuses the delicate aromas of the wine.

Goblets, in all their myriad forms, are used for white and red table wines—and in some cases, dessert wines. Goblets made specifically for red wine are generally larger than those for white wine, because the intense aromas and flavors found in many red wines need more room to develop. But I think a good all-purpose goblet, like the one shown on the facing page, can work well for anything from delicate whites to robust reds.

My cupboards are filled with an array of stemware, but nine times out of ten, I reach for my favorite all-purpose glass, the Riedel Vinum Chianti/Zinfandel glass. It sells for about $14.99, which is fairly reasonable. But you can find nice all-purpose glasses for even less than that (see “Great glasses that won’t break the bank,” below).

Above & beyond: pricey glasses for pricey wines

If your cellar is stocked with expensive age-worthy wines, then at some point it would be a good idea to invest in some fine crystal. Riedel Crystal of Austria, one of the finest producers of crystal in the world, makes dozens of different glasses, many in specific shapes to match the different aromas and flavors of various grape varieties. Their Vinum (machine-made crystal) and Sommelier (hand-blown crystal) series are both outstanding. The large Burgundy and Bordeaux glasses in the Sommelier series set the standard for all fine crystal. Both are priced at about $95 per glass.

Great glasses that won’t break the bank


Crate & Barrel Coco
(14 oz.), $2.95 at

Libbey Vino Grande
(16 oz.), $52.22 for a
set of 12 at Amazon.com



Riedel Vivant white wine
(12.38 oz.), $39.95 for
a set of four at Target.com

Pottery Barn Spiegelau white
wine (12 oz.), $72 for a
set of six at Potterybarn.com



Riedel Vivant red wine
(12.63 oz.), $39.95 for
a set of four at Target.com

Pottery Barn Spiegelau red
wine (15 oz.), $72 for a
set of six at Potterybarn.com


Crate & Barrel Natalie
(8 oz.), $3.95 each
at Crateandbarrel.com

Spiegelau Vino Grande
(6.5 oz.), $36.99 for a set
of six at Wineglasses.com

The anatomy of a wine glass

Thickness. Thinner glass is better but also more breakable, so search for glasses that strike a balance between delicacy and sturdiness. The lip of the glass should be cut and polished (rather than rolled and beaded), which guides wine smoothly to your palate.

Shape and size. An eggshaped bowl with a narrower top than bottom concentrates the aromas of the wine. The glass should hold at least 12 ounces. (But don’t fill it more than halfway. You need room to swirl, and the wine needs room to show off its aromas.)

Color and texture. The bowl should be uncut, uncolored, and unetched so you can fully enjoy the color of the wine.

Material. Crystal is the best kind of glass for wine because its surface has microscopic pits and grooves that enable wine to cling to the inside of the glass, further concentrating its aromas in the glass.

The charm of tumblers

You don’t necessarily need stemware to enjoy wine. Follow the lead of trattorias and bistros where tumblers are often used for wine glasses. Tumblers are perfectly suited to fruity, robust, everyday drinking wines. And casual tumblers are much less worrisome when you’re dining outdoors.


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