By Richy Petrina of Ithaca Wine Ventures
This Wine of the Week post is a little different: It’s part of a new series of simple tips on how to better enjoy and discover wine. We encourage you to comment and share your own suggestions!
Here is a simple and inexpensive solution for how to step up your wine game: glassware.
Much has been written about “the perfect” wine glass, or at the very least there’s been a ton of institutional marketing over the years both encouraging us and confusing us at the same time. Should you have a cabinet at home full of glasses for white wines and separate glasses for red wines? Does a Chardonnay taste better in a glass specifically shaped for that varietal versus drinking it from a glass shaped for a Riesling? Is a glass that costs $60 better than a glass that costs $6? More importantly, will it enhance the drinking experience?
To be fair, most of these questions are aimed at “the industry” and not at us as consumers. The glassware decisions that are made for a wine-focused beverage program can play a critical—and costly—part of its operation. Having delicate and expensive hand-blown Zalto glasses on every table, like the NoMad restaurant in New York City does, gives an immediate and not-so-subtle hint that they take wine, and wine service, very seriously.
Fine dining has always relied on physical accouterments that help highlight, serve, complement, and justify the experience. Their opulence and whimsy help transport us into a world that one normally doesn’t enjoy at home.
Similarly, a much more casual but upscale pizzeria—Pasquale Jones (also in NYC)—which is owned by a fine-wine industry professional, also places a Zalto glass at each seat. It’s the kind of place where you can spend $20 on a personal pizza but hundreds more on an exceptional bottle of wine, and naturally, they want to encourage that behavior. The glasses don’t make the experience, but they could break the experience if overlooked.
So what to do at home? If you look at Riedel—the General Motors of the wine glass world—they seemingly have countless options at every price point. You can splurge on a Cadillac and go with their “sommelier series” at over $100 per glass (!), or you can take a spin in their Oldsmobile “overture series” which will adequately serve its purpose. It is, after all, just a wine glass. Even so, you’re spending more than $15 per stem for their entry-level.
Don’t get me wrong: having a beautiful and balanced glass does enhance the drinking experience. A wide base allows the wine to open up. It invites you to look at it and feel it and discover it long before taking a sip. A tulip-shaped top focuses the aromas. And a thin lip provides the final delicate transition between the glass and your taste buds. It is like holding onto a little orchestra whose singular reason for being is to make the wine sing for you.
But at which point does the cost-benefit analysis go from practical to silly to crazy?
In our home, we have various glasses acquired over the years. Some were received as generous gifts, some were vintage finds, some are sentimental keepers, and yet the ones we use the most often are humble and inexpensive and just perfect for 95% of our daily needs. They are stemless wine glasses from CB2 and cost a little more than two dollars each.
I have no financial motivation to recommend this glass and will never argue that they are “the best.” But they are easy to care for; they actually fit in the dishwasher! They are easy to use. They don’t need to be polished by hand. They are delicate and fragile—in a good way—because they’re not too clunky or thick. They are, simply, a very inexpensive way to elevate the wine without much thought. Perhaps most importantly, you don’t cringe at the cost of replacing the occasional glass when it inevitably breaks.
For special occasions and special bottles, I do like to roll out the “nicer” stemware. I enjoy the ceremony of polishing them and of looking at a properly set table. I enjoy swirling the glass and seeing the wine’s movement on the pedestal that is my hand. It’s fun. But it’s not something I need every time we open a bottle of wine. Sometimes, keeping it simple just works.
We’d love to hear your thoughts—and Cheers!
Richy Petrina founded Ithaca Wine Ventures in June of 2019 to elevate and amplify the region and its exceptional producers. The startup’s latest project, WINEcsa.org, is a wine club from the Finger Lakes featuring a different winery each month, with local drop-offs and nationwide shipping.