Back in the day, I would drink wine out of any vessel able to contain it. This included (but was in not limited to): paper cups, tumblers, martini glasses, soup ladles, and – memory is a little hazy on this – possibly a shoe. It was only once I grew up a little bit, and started buying wine that didn’t come in a box, that I learnt the value of proper stemware.
It is astounding the difference a glass can make to the way a wine tastes. This comes down to a number of things. The type of actual glass used to make the glass; the thickness of the rim; lead content; and even whether or not the glass is blown by hand (mouth?) or machine.
The quality of the actual glass relates to the purity of flavour. High quality crystal glassware, on a microscopic level, will have a perfectly smooth surface. In contrast to this, cheaper glass has a pitted, rougher surface. This is important because odours and other nasties can get trapped on a rough surface, and a glass that looks spotlessly clean can still impart smells and flavours to your wine. This doesn’t sound like a big deal when you think about your everyday after-work quaffer, but would you feel the same about a top-end Burgundy?
Wine does best with a rim as thin as possible – to facilitate what is best described as “a smooth transition from glass to palate.” Mouth blowing, rather than machine blowing, achieves a far thinner rim. This is because a human blower can better gauge how thin they are able to take the glass by eye and skill – two things a machine will never be able to do. If you think that a glass this thin and delicate breaks easily, here is a video of a lunatic putting that theory to the test. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.
My student days may be well behind me, but I have been known to still drink my wine out of inappropriate vessels. My next set of glasses though, will be something more along the lines of Zalto – hand-blown, delicate, and with the magic ability to make any wine taste better. The best feature, in my book at least, is that they can be washed in a dishwasher – albeit carefully.