Well, as I’ve written before, all wines are enhanced by good stemware. The titanium-infused line of “impact-resistant” stemware from Schott-Zwiesel have their virtues. At about $10 a stem, you could even break a few but they really are pretty resistant.
I recently splurged on a pair of gorgeous Zalto Universals, hand-crafted crystal stems from Austria. They are so elegant and weightless that they almost take the glass out of wine drinking–somehow, the fermented grape juice is constrained beautifully on display, the aromas concentrated, and the wine ultimately swishes over the palate while hardly sensing the glass rim. They are so thin it took my wife a couple of weeks to overcome a fear that they would shatter merely upon casting them a wayward glance. But we’ve had the set for a couple of months now, enjoying Champagne, Burgundy and Barolo in them, with nary a break (hope I didn’t just jinx it). I have yet to find more pleasurable stemware.
I bumped into Aldo Sohm, the head sommelier at Le Bernardin whose signature adorns the glasses, a few weeks after I got mine. He shocked me by telling me to throw them in the dishwasher to clean them. Eeegad! I continue to hand wash but good to know that the dishwasher is authorized by the highest authority.
Even though they are pricey at $60 each it sure would be nice to share a pair with a wine geek dad.
Advice columns this time of year frequently suggest wine gifts. Such columns often target the generalist reader who’s not that into wine but is looking for a gift to give to a wine-loving friend or relative. Flipping this model on its head, here’s what wine geeks need to give their friends and relatives who are marginally into wine: good stemware.
Yes, there’s certainly a strong argument to give them a bottle of wine itself–we certainly need plenty of it at this time of year. But wine itself can be a hit or a miss and, either way, it’s here today, empty tomorrow and, all too often, forgotten when the recycling bin is emptied. Certainly books have a tendency of sticking around longer and as the author of two wine books, I highly recommend giving the gift of wine books. A good corkscrew (such as pulltaps) is a nice touch, but really not essential since even the dreaded butterfly corkscrew can get the job done.
Thus, glasses. I think this even came up in the Bible: give a friend a bottle of wine, and you give him or her enjoyment for just one evening. But give him or her good stemware (or a good wine book for learning more about how to choose good wine!), and you will will elevate your friends’ wine enjoyment for months if not years to come. Many are under $10 a stem. Riedel makes handsome stems but, in my experience, I have found them very easy to break. Ravenscroft also has solid stems, starting at $7.50 each. And the Tritan forte Schott-Zwiesel makes a titanium infused line of crystal glasses that really does reduce breakage. And, no, you don’t need to give a different glass for each grape variety.
So go crazy and help your friends say cheers with style this holiday season with some good stemware, the best non-wine book gift that you can give to your friends and relatives who are getting into wine.
Georg Riedel, 10th generation Austrian glass-blower, invented the delicate crystal glass designed for each grape variety.
Many wine lovers around the world have cabinets stuffed with complete sets by each varietal. But Riedel continues unabated, subdividing grapes with his just released Oregon pinot noir glass–mere grape no longer suffices as now terroir is overlaid on grape. The logically possible amount of stemware just increased exponentially.
Daniel Zwerdling burst into the wine world like a bull in a decanter shop. His story, “Shattered Myths,” in Gourmet (August 2004 and very, very unfortunately not available online), asserted that Georg was pulling the wool over discerning drinkers eyes: the reason wine in Riedel stems tastes better is not because of a tongue map–it simply tastes better because we believe it should.
So, as we contemplate adding more crystal to our collections and to give as gifts this holiday season, have your say in the latest poll!
poll now closed
It’s not often I retrieve a box from UPS on the doorstep, open it, and dump the contents in the sink. But that’s what I did the other day.
Fortunately it wasn’t wine. Instead it was crystal. Eegad–had I lost all sense with too much Sancerre? No, I was actually trying out some glasses that I purchased called Tritan Forte made by Schott Zwiesel. They claim to be unbreakable, or at least “impact-resistant.”
Granted, I didn’t want to have crystal shards flying around the kitchen so I somewhat wimped out and let one glass fall two or three inches–a height that would have shattered many stems. But this Forte was indeed tres forte and it didn’t even crack thanks to a lead-free crystal that has titanium in it. The best news may have been the price–eight stems for $60 from Wine Enthusiast catalogue (via Amazon has a wider selection). A deep bowl and tapered top makes it sleek, elegant as well as functional.
We decided to put several stems to the test. Heck, now that even Target has a line of Riedel crystal stemware, high quality wine glasses appear poised to be the hot gift for the holidays this year. So we lined up some other contenders for the Forte: Riedel O, Riedel Vinum, and Bottega del Vino. Here at the Dr. Vino world headquarters, we enjoyed the excellent Chateau Cesseras, AOC Minervois La Liviniere, 2001. I’m not sure of the price since it was a gift from a friend who brought it back from the south of France but the wine has an excellent balance, with wonderful aromatics and southern French jamminess.
Starting with the biggest glass, I recently received a press sample of the Bottega del Vino Rosso Burgunder ($48 per stem). Wow. It is the Cadillac Escalade of wine glasses, sparkling and towering over the others. One friend who is 6’7″ loved it christening it “le chalice.”
While I would definitely agree that it is impressive to look at and puts whoever holds it way at the top in the game of ostentatious one-upmanship, I’m not convinced that it’s the best vessel, particularly for everyday use. I found that the aromas dissipated too easily, thanks to the flared rim on the glass. And it looks so brittle that an enthusiastic clinking of glasses during a toast might bring more than good wishes raining down on your companion.
The squat Riedel “O” glass ($19 for 2) looks like a Weeble Wobble for grown-ups. The aromas were better concentrated in this glass than in the Bottega. But without a stem, I got goobery fingerprints all over the bowl and the wine started to warm up in the glass since there was no stem to hold. This glass is not good for cocktail parties therefore–try it while seated at the table if at all to avoid warming up the wine.
The Riedel Vinum Zin/Riesling glass that I use as a frequent red-white crossover vessel in this case provided the excellent results and was the runner up. Not as big a bowl as the other three but it captured the aromas and was goober-free. At $38 for 4 on Amazon, the price was comparable to the Tritan Forte. However, since I have (dangerously) broken many a Riedel stem while hand washing, the Tritan Forte edges it out for apparent durability. It’s an excellent glass for everyday use around the house that doubles as a great gift. I’ll drink to that.
I think I mentioned previously my regular space over at foodandwine.com called “Dr. Vino’s Verdict.” In the series of short posts, I render judgement on pressing issues of the wine world. I can’t promise the wisdom of Solomon with my verdicts, but I do aim for more than Judge Judy.
Anyhoo, in my post over there this week, I strongly urge you to cut through the marketing clutter that suggests a different glass for each grape variety. Instead, reach for one glass–the Zalto Universal–to elevate your wine drinking experience.
Don’t you think varietal stemware is just a tad overkill?
In related news, not from The Onion, Riedel announced a $20 glass for Coca-Cola this week. But will it work for Diet Coke?
China is waving a broken wine bottle in international negotiations: in retaliation for EU tariffs of 11.8% against Chinese solar panels, Chinese authorities have threatened to place trade barriers on EU wine. The EU alleges that China dumps solar panels below the cost of manufacture and China alleges the same thing for EU wine, pointing to subsidies to the industry. See this Reuters account for details.
But who really stands to lose, European wine producers or Chinese consumers who have acquired a taste for European wines? Well, surely the Lafite crowd in mainland China won’t be crying into their Riedel stemware as they could likely afford to pay any new duties. (Notably, wine coming into Hong Kong would still be exempt.) But it could shift Chinese consumption to other parts of the wine world, such as Australia or the US. Or maybe it would spur interest in domestic wines from China. Or maybe it would snuff out their newly stoked interest in wine. There are always unintended consequences in trade wars.
And, more often than not, tough talk is just a bargaining tactic.
Want to buy a five-pack of Bordeaux wines that Robert Parker scored 100 points? Given the proliferation of 100-point wines these days, that’s not the hardest thing to come anymore. No, the ne plus ultra now is a five-pack of RP 100s, sold as a signed set by Robert Parker!
SudOuest has the full story (picked up en anglais over at wine-searcher). Suffice it to say that the five-packs don’t include Haut Brion and Petrus. Interestingly, the negociant who put it together said that this would not have been possible before Robert Parker sold a substantial stake in the Wine Advocate late last year to Singaporean investors. The negociant didn’t reveal the details of this autographing arrangement, but said there was no commercial angle to the transaction.
No photo was available of the five-packs, so we run one of KISS, who similarly cashed in on autographed items. What will be the next in the Robert Parker line? Stemware by Christmas? After all, Suckling already beat him to that one. Maybe there will be some signed Ralph Nader memorabilia for old times’ sake.
William Grimes laments the fact that wine geeks are so frequently the recipients of “unwanted gifts, of gizmos and gadgets,” especially this time of year. In his sites this time are mechanical corkscrews “a baroque solution to a problem that has baffled no one for the last five centuries.”
Indeed, while mechanical corkscrews may help people with limited mobility, you’re better advised to spend your money on wine and buy simple a Pulltaps (or decent stemware) instead!
“The Newfangled Corkscrew: It Comes With a Twist” [NYTimes.com]