The vast majority of the wine-drinking public are blissfully ignorant of the fine details of wine. Most are happy to drink wine out of any glass, regardless of the size, shape, or thickness, and don’t have a clue about why a wine glass should have a stem. There are those in this majority, however, who do have a glimmer about the details of drinking wine. For these people, explaining why different glasses enhance the experience of drinking wine is a revelation.
The best wine glasses are clear. Colored glasses interfere with judging the color of the wine accurately. Cut crystal may also interfere with the color, as light reflects off the prismatic facets in the glass.
Leaded Crystal, Non-Leaded Crystal, or Plain Glass?
There’s no gainsaying it – wine tastes best out of fine, leaded crystal. Having said this, other factors come into play, like whether or not you have fine, leaded crystal in your china cabinet, where you will be serving the wine, and whether or not your audience will appreciate the difference the leaded crystal makes in the taste.
If you’re serving the wine at a large dinner party, leaded crystal is not a good idea. Non-leaded crystal, while still not cheap, is nowhere near the cost of the leaded product. Using a non-leaded crystal will impact the experience of drinking wine, but use it anyway if your audience isn't likely to notice the difference. Should you be serving the wine at an event, or perhaps at a picnic, plain glassware of the appropriate shape, size, and thickness is the common sense way to go, and chances are you will not be serving your finest, carefully stored vintages from your home cellar.
Stems, or Stemless?
Proper wine glasses are called stemware for a reason; they have long, thin stems ending in a round, flat base. The glass is meant to be held by the stem, to keep the temperature of your hand from affecting the wine in your glass. Stemless wine glasses are becoming more popular, however; they protect the wine from your hand by having a thick base at the bottom of the glass, thinning out as the glass rounds. Stemless glasses are cheaper than the stemmed version, and the stems do present unique challenges, as they tend to break while being washed by hand, and it may or prevent them from being loaded in the dishwasher.
Antique Or Modern?
There are some exceptionally beautiful modern glasses available on the market today, and it's worth seeking these out to add to your drinking pleasure. However, many people who have the luxury of an extensive home cellar also enjoy collecting antique stemware. It makes an elegant display in a subtly lighted cabinet alongside your cellar, and it's enjoyable to drink a fine wine from a collectable glass.
If you are entertaining friends and colleagues who are appreciative of the details of wine, show them you both know and understand wine yourself, by serving them wine in glasses of appropriate size, shape, and thickness. Whether or not you use stemmed or non-stemmed glasses is a matter of personal preference and taste, as long as the glass is appropriate to the wine.