Judging by the intricate shapes and sizes advocated by high-end wineglass producers, if you’re serious about wine, it seems that you need a set of glasses devoted to each region and variety stashed in the cupboards. There’s the wide-bowled glass for red burgundy, a slightly different wide-bowled glass for West Coast Pinot Noir (because it has a different power, don’t you know), and the list goes on. The choices are bewildering, and advice tends to make even the most consummate hosts worry they’re getting it wrong when they pour for wine-savvy friends.
Where does the truth lie? Is a glass customized to each wine type critical to enjoying the nuances of that wine? What should our cupboards realistically contain, to showcase our best bottles proudly?
As it turns out, three consummate wine professionals have answered these questions by way of designing wineglasses themselves—glasses they believe offer maximum enjoyment of all great wine. Robb Report reached out to find out what, in their view, is most important characteristics of a wineglass, and why we might not need an annex just to house our glassware.
In London, Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine and prominent author and critic, has challenged the industry by introducing the Jancis Robinson Collection. That’s right, one wineglass … for everything—red, white, pink, and sparkling. Created in partnership with designer Richard Brendon, the set also includes a water glass and two decanters, but just one glass for wine. Robinson does give a tiny nod to producers of wine-specific glasses: “I think different shapes and sizes may make a wine taste a few percent better—depending on the precise wine, of course, each one can vary enormously. But even putting cost aside, in most modern houses, there’s an acute shortage of storage space.” And then the savvy contrarian emerges. “I find it can be quite difficult to tell the different models apart, anyway! And I can’t see the logic at all for having white wine in a smaller glass than red wine. Many a white is every bit as subtle as the average red wine, so it needs just as much encouragement via a big bowl to express itself.”
Robinson based her design on a small set of priorities: A glass should be plain, unadorned, and as thin as possible, to put the taster in as direct contact as possible with the wine. It should have a rounded bowl and taper in to the top so you can swirl the wine to maximize the surface area and release its all-important aromas without spilling it. And for her, a stem is essential because it leaves the temperature of the wine unaffected (although she acknowledges that her stemless water glass can be used for wine if you want to ditch the stem). In the end, Robinson describes her glass as “so light and fine that the whole thing is a pleasure, and you really do feel at one with the wine.”
In California, Andrea Robinson, one of only 23 female Master Sommeliers in the world, offers a design named with similar minimalist wisdom: The One. While the concept is a single shape, it comes in two sizes, one for red and one for white (“slightly larger for the red, to allow for more aeration, slightly smaller for the white, to preserve the delicacy and chill,” she explains). Robinson’s conviction that you don’t need a shape for each region and grape comes from taste-testing hundreds of wines in their customized glass styles—for the major glass companies themselves, who were looking for her endorsement. She found, contrary to their premise that the glass must direct the wine to hit a particular point on your tongue (which, she says, varies not only with a person’s anatomy but also with how full the glass is), the more important thing is the channeling of the aromas to your olfactory sense.
The advice she gives wine lovers at home? A glass needs a thin rim, as opposed to a rolled lip, so wine flows smoothly across the palate. It needs a bowl that’s large enough to allow the wine to aerate, but not so large that it loses its temperature. It should be tapered to the rim, to concentrate aromas, and balanced in the hand, so it feels comfortable and steady, and is easy to swirl. On a practical note, Robinson’s glasses are break-resistant and fit in the dishwasher.
The newest glass on the market—coming this fall—is from the JCB Collection, presided over by inimitable vintner and design maven Jean-Charles Boisset, whose family produces a great deal of wine both in France and in California. Produced in partnership with the Baccarat crystal company, the JCB Passion Collection, so-dubbed in pure Boisset style, is channeling the seeming current collective consciousness with a single glass. Echoing Robinson, Boisset says, “I’ve never understood why white wineglasses are frequently smaller than those for red. Many whites are highly aromatic and deserve a larger bowl to honor their beautiful characteristics.” He, too, believes slight shape differences might showcase different varieties to advantage, but “those are such minor improvements that it’s unnecessary to feel you have to have the ‘right’ glass for each wine.”
Beyond the similar requirements of a large bowl for swirling and aerating and a thin rim, his priorities run more to the aesthetics than those of the designers above. Elegance, above all: “The shape and feel of the glass in your hand should inspire you and reflect the fine quality of the liquid in the glass!”