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Shopping for wine glasses can be an intimidating endeavor, especially for those in unfamiliar territory. There are all-purpose glasses, specific silhouettes for every wine under the sun — think Cabernet, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Chardonnay, standard Riesling, sweet Riesling, Port, sherry, you name it — along with flutes, coupes, stemless glasses and much more. Instead of going in blind and having to rely solely on guidance from wine boxes, store signage and advice from in-house salespeople, we enlisted the help of several wine experts to demystify the process and help you build your glassware collection intuitively — and without feeling pressured to stock your cabinets with more styles than are theoretically necessary. We consulted those experts on how to buy the best wine glasses at various price points. In short, we found that the wine glass landscape can be a lot less complicated (and stuffy) than one might think.
Best wine glasses: Myths and misconceptions
Some of the most common misconceptions when it comes to wine glasses, experts told us, involve just how many you need to have if you want to enjoy different types of wine. As a longtime wine writer and a sommelier-in-training, I’ve always found that having a solid all-purpose glass will take you far. While many big glassware companies, such as Riedel, tend to adhere to a “the more, the merrier” philosophy (which makes sense given their craft), a high-quality stemmed glass built to accommodate a multitude of wines will save you both money and physical space in the long run.
Just one glass, please
Now, you wouldn’t expect a glassware company to co-sign my approach, but Austrian crystal brand Gabriel-Glas is all about the “one-for-all” method. I spoke with Tempe Reichardt, CEO of Gabriel-Glas North America, who wholeheartedly agreed that the concept of selling varietal-specific glasses is an antiquated one. “Life is simpler with a universal glass,” she tells me, which is why her brand only offers one style of wine glass, available in two different quality levels (the Gold Edition, mouth-blown and made of lead-free crystal, and the machine-molded, crystal StandArt Edition, which is also lead-free). Instead of investing a ton of money in a broad selection of different glass styles, Reichardt recommends spending more on your wine collection. Of course, buying less things is, in general, also better for the environment.
I personally own both versions of the Gabriel-Glas all-purpose glass, and the Gold Edition is quite possibly the most exquisite vessel I’ve ever sipped wine from. It is impossibly thin — Reichardt says that lead-free crystal can be spun very finely, resulting in a finer lip than what regular glass can yield.
Crystal glassware and lead
To clear up any confusion, though, the term “crystal” indicates lead content by definition, thus the term “lead-free crystal” can be a bit confusing. According to Gurasu, a fine crystal brand based in London, lead-free crystal is technically a “brilliant form of glass” as it replaces crystal’s hallmark lead oxide with other chemical compounds.
Science aside, this glass changed my life. It makes me more excited to drink wine than I ordinarily would be (which, for the record, is usually very), and the silhouette truly is conducive to many different wines. “The unique shape with the broader base at the bottom of the bowl allows for more surface-to-air contact for the wine served in the glass, so flavors and aromas emerge in the glass,” Reichardt explains. “The conical shape at the top of the glass both focuses and drives the aromas and flavors, allowing for the full expression of the wine.”
Like a set of knives, you can get away with a few basics.
Lauren Mowery, Contributing Travel Editor, Wine Enthusiast
How to buy the best wine glasses for you
Wine Enthusiast Contributing Travel Editor Lauren Mowery, a self-proclaimed glassware nerd, is actually a fan of stocking different glassware styles, but not in order to formulaically pair each style with its intended wine. Many varietal-specific glasses are much more versatile than they might let on, she says. “I simply enjoy swapping out different glasses as a fun, affordable luxury — [it’s] cheaper than flying to France,” Mowery says, sharing advice to anyone new to the glassware shopping game.
“Don't get bogged down in the ‘crisp whites, bold reds, full-bodied whites, light-bodied reds’ glass distinctions that some lines like Riedel and NUDE have. Like a set of knives, you can get away with a few basics,” she says.
Glass quality — namely, the thinness of the lip and lightness of the wine glass — is the most important factor to consider about your new wine glasses, says Mowery. “Don't mistake this trait for fragility,” she advised. “Many of the best glasses these days can bounce off the ground when dropped, like NUDE. But a razor-thin lip will change your mind forever on drinking out of clunky glasses.”
With that in mind, Mowery and other experts recommended some of their favorite glasses to look out for while glassware shopping.
For each of our wines that we hold dear, we choose the perfect glass according to the style and the color of the wine, and the moment of consumption for which it is intended.
Gérard Bertrand, Winemaker
Best wine glasses to shop
Matt Crafton, head winemaker at Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley, is partial to the universal Gabriel-Glas Gold Edition. “It’s close to the ideal Swiss army knife glass in that you can use it for pretty much any wine, and it costs about half of the Riedel Bordeaux Grand Cru glass,” he says.
Again, Gabriel-Glas only produces one style of wine glass, but at two different glass quality levels: The Gold Edition above, made of mouth-blown, lead-free crystal, and the StandArt below, which is also made from lead-free crystal but molded in a machine –– which is one reason it’s available at a lower price point than its mouth-blown counterpart.
“For whites, I prefer a slightly larger glass than the standard white glasses, so I look to brands that make them,” says Mowery. “I always use a white wine glass for Champagne because the flutes — although pretty for gazing at bubbles — don't allow for much aromatic release.”
Turkish glassware brand NUDE is a personal go-to for Mowery, and the Terroir white wine glass fits the bill. “Not many Americans know about this brand yet — most think Riedel is the best since they've done a lot of marketing here, but that's like saying Dom is the best Champagne. They're good brands but they have great competitors,” she said. NUDE’s wine glasses are made of lead-free crystal, are strikingly thin and relatively affordable in comparison to Riedel (for example, a comparable pair of Riedel glasses would run you at least twice the price of this Nude set).
When in doubt, experiment. Winemaker Gérard Bertrand, a leader in France’s biodynamic wine scene, recommends taking a personal approach to determining what kind of stemware works best for you and your preferred wines — you can easily achieve this by purchasing a quality variety pack of glasses, as long as they’re fine-lipped and durable. Then, the fun begins.
“For each of our wines that we hold dear, we choose the perfect glass according to the style and the color of the wine, and the moment of consumption for which it is intended,” says Bertrand, who explains:
We identify the ideal glass, taking into account the depth, the fineness, the height, et cetera; to do so, we organize comparative tastings in groups, during which we all taste the same wine in several glasses. Each one gives an opinion and we eliminate successively the glasses to end up with the one ultimate glass for the wine. It is a very interesting and fun experience that awakens all the senses. A very nice idea of an activity for an evening between friends or for future spouses that want to have fun while choosing the perfect wine and glass match.
Schott Zweisel is a trusted name in glassware, and a set like this (made using a patented titanium technology) should do the trick — you can pad the experience with a handful of other glasses you already own.
In addition to universal glasses, Mowery recommends stocking a few quality Bordeaux and Burgundy glasses, but not exclusively for drinking their respective wines. This three-pack by revered Austrian glassware great Zalto is a triple threat, featuring one of each style. According to Mowery, drinking from a Zalto glass is like “sipping wine from a cloud.”
Together, these three glasses will check a wide variety of wine drinking boxes.
- The Bordeaux glass is designed for red wines “full of character and high in tannins,” such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Rioja, and others alongside the more obvious Bordeaux.
- When it comes to a Burgundy glass, this is another versatile style that Mowery puts to use quite often, favoring its wider bowl for swirling and releasing aromas in wines (Zalto recommends using this particular glass for expressive reds like Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo and Barbera, as well as aromatic whites such as Grüner Veltliner and Chardonnay.
- Again, a universal glass is always great to have on hand as a go-to for a long list of wines ranging in quality and price.
With some painted in several colors and others clear, the blida offers a bit of exotic whimsy to the Champagne experience. Yet, vitally, they’re just so practical for casual, everyday enjoyment.
Godefroy Baijot’s, Champagne Expert and Head of Besserat de Bellefon
In formal settings, such as winery tastings or events, Eric Kohler, the technical director of the Bordeaux Châteaux at Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) will usually go for a range of varietal-specific glasses.
But for a kitchen cabinet, he recommends something a little more casual: some nice tumbler glasses. “Recently, we have been sipping our fresh, citrus-forward Carmes de Rieussec Sauternes over ice with lemon zest in a simple glass tumbler,” he shares. “This is a refreshing alternative to a summer cocktail, and easy to prepare, since you don't need to go out and buy lots of ingredients or a high-priced set of stemware.” Kohler points out that you can certainly make use of what’s already on your shelves, of course. But if you’re looking to treat yourself to something new, this set of 18 tumblers in various sizes from Crate and Barrel is not only aesthetically pleasing, but can be used for practically any wine or other drink of choice — plus, they stack nicely, saving you precious storage space.
Contrary to popular belief, flutes and coupes are not necessarily the ideal option for drinking Champagne. In fact, many Champagne experts either use something like a thin-lipped stemmed white wine glass, and in Godefroy Baijot’s case, it’s a simple tea glass. The Champagne expert and head of Besserat de Bellefon elaborates: “The people of Champagne, les Champenois, happily toast their good sense using the blida. Originating in the eponymous Algerian town, blidas are essentially Algerian tea glasses: stemless with a slight taper, and under four ounces in volume. With some painted in several colors and others clear, the blida offers a bit of exotic whimsy to the Champagne experience. Yet, vitally, they’re just so practical for casual, everyday enjoyment.” Plus, Baijot adds, these glasses can easily be packed up for a picnic or other outdoor activity. And because they’re nice and small, you can keep the chilled Champagne flowing without it coming to temperature in the glass while you drink. These can be used for any sparkling wine you wish to enjoy.