The three major factors that enhance wine pleasure are arguably temperature, context and wine glasses. We cannot always decide on the scenery and company, but we can definitely do something about temperature and glasses at home. As for sommeliers, they are supposed to bring the best out of the wines they pour by using all means at their disposal be it temperature, glasses or decanting.
Custodio Zamarra, who mastered the skill for 40 years at Zalacaín restaurant in Madrid, believes that “glasses are very important to enjoy wine”, specially when it comes “to extract the maximum aromatic expression”. From his point of view, they play a minor role on the palate except for the tactile feeling when sipping the wine; the finer the glass, the better –this is what hand-blown crystal is about. Research conducted by the Institute of Biomaterials and Bioengineering at Tokyo Medical and Dental University has shown that the shape of the glass matters when enjoying the aroma of wine.
No other manufacturer has developed such an ability to stress the importance of glassware than Riedel. The first tastings conducted by Georg Riedel in Spain in the 1990s were tremendously convincing. A fine fruit-driven Verdejo could turn into an herbaceous, unidirectional wine if poured into a different glass. Similarly, a fine Bordeaux served in the wrong glass could display unpleasant, harsh tannins. Different shapes and sizes were linked to the old theory that basic flavours were experienced in specific sections of the tongue, thus glasses were designed to direct the wine to these areas depending on which flavor was to be enhanced and/or mitigated. Nowadays it is commonly accepted that taste buds are found all over the tongue, although different parts are more sensitive to certain tastes.
Riedel glasses are suitable for most of the main grape varieties (Tempranillo included) and wine regions according to its new online store for Spain run by longtime importer and distributor Euroselecció. But with the most affordable glass, the Ouverture Mágnum, retailing over €20 for a pack of two, it is not within everybody’s reach.
According to sommelier Luis García de la Navarra, who runs two busy restaurants in the heart of Madrid together with his sibling Pedro, “the ideal wine glass should have a slim design, a fine stem and considerable volume —around 30-35 cl. About three or four times the size of an old catavino or [copita]”.
At his restaurants you’ll find Schott Zwiesel glasses along with some highly resistant glassware made in Spain. Schott, whose premium range is also a favorite of García de la Navarra, has been a popular choice both for wine lovers and professionals in search of value. A basic set of six is available on Amazon for €21.95.
For those unwilling to spend more than €3, there is always the option to visit large department stores where glasses with acceptable size and shape are usually stocked (see the pictures I took last week at a large discount chain in Madrid). Ikea also sells goblets for under €1 —with an expectedly thick glass, attention should turn to the shape of the bowl. Look for relatively large round or angular bowls progressively narrowing towards the rim and with a generous contact area to oxygenate the wine.
With prices becoming more affordable and designs gradually improving, Custodio Zamarra believes that “nowadays there’s no excuse for not providing a decent wine glass in restaurants”. In fact, having a look at their glassware is one the best ways to find out how wine-friendly restaurants are.
A good approach to choose the right glassware should include an estimate of how much a wine lover spends on wine. The over-the-top fashion of using a different glass for each wine is over; thankfully common sense is back. The trend among top Champagne producers of favouring standard red and white wine glasses for their fizz has helped. In this context, brands claiming that one glass is suitable for all sorts of wine have gained visibility. This is the case of Gabriel Glas, designed by Swiss wine critic René Gabriel. The shape of the glass favours oxygenation and is even supposed to have a decanting effect. These glasses are lead-free so they are light and resistant given that they are manufactured in one piece without attachment points to the base or the bowl.
It is specially significant that the importer of Gabriel Glas in Spain is not a wine accessories company but the well-known importer and distributor Alma Vinos, highly focused on small producers from both Spain and overseas. Glasses can be purchased at La Tintorería (Gurtubay, 4), its wine shop in Madrid. Standard glasses weighing 145g cost €9.9 each whereas a hand-blown glass weighing 90g costs €29.9.
The Royal Glass models follow a similar philosophy. Designed by geobiology expert Jean Pierre Lagneau, creator of Spiegelau's Authentis range prior to being bought by Riedel in 2004, and Laurent Vialette, wine critic and member of the Grand Jury Européen, this glass tries to reflect the essence of each wine by harmonizing its different compounds instead of dissociating them. Lagneau has applied geobiology concepts, a science that studies the Earth’s influence on living things based on the analysis of energy. They can be bought in Spain at Vinícola de Información (Plaza de la Miñoca, 20, Vigo, Galicia) for €8.5 each. They are made out of barium glass so they are lead-free. Each glass weights 145g.
Both Gabriel Glas and Royal Glass can be washed in a standard dishwasher. Gabriel Glass are arguably more hedonistic, really fine and slender even in their industrial version. Royal Glass Master glasses such as the 32cl model look medium-sized for current standards, but there’s an even bigger one (40cl). They reflect the character of the wines and are and user-friendly, very appropriate for professional tasters.
When it comes to wine glasses, there’s an obvious difference between manufactured and artisan hand-blown models —extremely light and delicate and significantly more expensive than industrial models. Within this luxury category, the latest craze among wine lovers and professionals is Zalto.
This Austrian manufacturer exclusively makes hand-blown crystal glasses and is behind some of the finest and thinnest glasses in the market; so thin that you almost feel there’s nothing between the wine and your lips. The Denk’Art series that have captivated so many producers around the world are name after father Hans Denk, who found inspiration in the tilt angles of the Earth to design the bowl. According to Zalto’s website, Romans used the same angles for their supply repositories, finding that food kept fresh for a longer period of time.
Lluís Pablo, who distributes Zalto glasses throughout Gourmet Hunters, firmly believes that “glasses should be like the perfect butler, who does his job without being noticed”. From his point of view, Zalto glasses turn the wine into the real star so they can showcase both its virtues and flaws. Many producers use them during the wine making process. All models, including the “universal”, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, white wine and sweet wine cost €32.25 per unit.
Pablo has a few tips for Zalto glass owners: be careful with the delicate stem and hold the glass by the bowl to rinse them. After washing them with water, add a few drops of osmotic water to achieve a perfect finish. Zalto glasses can be washed in a standard dishwasher but Pablo suggests to wash them separately from the rest of the crockery with just a drop of washing-up liquid.
Hungarian wine glasses imported and distributed by VCA Hostelería Selección in Spain, are another good source of fine hand-blown glasses (also lead-free). Even if the company is mostly trade-oriented, it also sells to private consumers if they buy a minimum of six units. The standard Bordeaux glass retails for €14.70.
Prices featured in this article apply to the Spanish market, but most of the producers we mention sell their products worldwide. We hope, therefore, that our recommendations are helpful for wine lovers based outside of Spain.