Imagine it’s time to buy your first wine glasses specifically made to enhance the experience of drinking and appreciating fine wine. This means glasses you’re not only proud to showcase at the dinner table with friends or important guests, but glasses that feel good, enhance aromas, flavors, and swirling, plus, let’s hope, don’t break too easily.
I’m on that search now. I’m considering both fine glass and crystal, both machine-manufactured and mouth-blown. I realize machine-made glasses will be heavier than the alternative. I want a set of at least six glasses and a better price for buying more than one or two. I’m looking at both “universal” glasses and separate sets for red and white.
Universal glasses suit all red and white wines, some even sparklers. Having distinct glasses for red and white wines makes for a more impressive table setting and also equips you better for serving different wine styles. Red wine glasses generally have bigger capacity and wider circumference, giving the wine more surface for air contact, important for breathing. They also lend a bigger space in the glass to capture aromas. The glass’ walls should slope inward toward the opening for the same reason. For white wines, air contact is not as critical (and could be detrimental) and as they are served cool to cold, the aroma factor is slightly less important. There’s a chance the narrower white wine glasses will hold the cool temperature better as well. Universal glasses suit those who don’t have a lot of storage space, or who consider treating red and white wines differently to be of minor importance.
Academic studies have shown that larger glasses in restaurants lead to greater wine consumption, so if you’re entertaining and want the guests to have a good time, this could be a factor too. Larger and taller glasses can make for an impressive table presentation.
Swirling is a critical component of the wine tasting process and thus, for this reason as well, I don’t want glasses with straight sides (accidents do happen). The glass should allow for easy, gentle swirling without fear of red wine escaping onto clothing, tablecloths, and carpets.
Two brands have recently surfaced from communication with friends, wine colleagues, and the media: Josephinenhütte and Grasl. For many wine connoisseurs, Denk’Art Zalto glasses have now replaced Riedel as the go to brand. All of these are mouth blown crystal, but I’m open to these brands and more.
The Wine Glasses
Josephinenhütte glasses were designed in 2019 by Kurt Josef Zalto, who left his eponymous company some time ago. They’re fine crystal, handmade, and feature an undulating shape to enhance swirling and aeration, but close at the top to prevent spills and capture aromas. They stand 9.45” tall. A set of six of his wine glasses costs $444.00, or $74 a stem when ordering directly from the company website. These are impressive, stylized glasses and clearly mouth-blown works of art.
Like the Josephine glasses, the Denk`Art Zalto glasses are handblown, but have a more conventional, if still elegant shape. The universal glass holds 18 ounces and is 9.4” high. The price is $59 a stem. The “Bordeaux” style glass is 9 1/4" in height, 23 ounces, and costs $61. Denk’Art recommends not handwashing these glasses, using a dishwasher instead, as “hand-washing can add pressure and torque to the bowl, stem and base which can cause breakage and potential injury.” Not for me, as I prefer handwashing.
Grassl Glass claims to be “the future of mouth-blown wine glassware.” The Elemental Series Versatile glass is an attractive universal glass holding a little over 14 ounces. A set of six glasses costs $240 ($40 per glass). These are for “everyday needs,” according to Grassl. Their Vigneron Series Liberté glass is bigger, at 17 ounces, and gets great reviews as a universal glass. The cost for six is $378 or $63 a stem. The white wine version is called Mineralité, “ideal for acidic wines with verve,” offered for the same price as Liberté.
I like the classic straight lines and apparent quality of Grassl, even the Versatile model, and 14 ounces is neither too big nor too small. They also offer a Champagne glass, not a flute, for the same price.
Spiegelau of Germany makes lead-free crystal glasses at more reasonable price points, though these wine receptables are machine-made. The Vino Grande red wine glasses hold 15 ounces and a set of four stems will cost you about $39, or $9.77 per stem. The white wine glasses in the same line also cost about $39 for four, with each one holding a potential 12 ounces. These are narrow-rimmed and long-stemmed glasses; if not fashion statements, they’re well designed. Their Style collection has a more angular, modern appearance and the red version holds an impressive 22.2 ounces. A set of four costs about $41. The white wine model of “Style” holds 14.4 ounces and the set of four is $45. One potential flaw is that even Spiegelau admits these glasses have “seamless stems (or nearly seamless),” an element of machine manufacturing. They are also heavier than many of the other options, which is practical, but perhaps less elegant in the hand
Zwiesel Glas technically makes glass (as opposed to crystal). However, their patented Tritan technology uses titanium and zirconium oxides instead of lead or barium to ensure strength even with a very thin glass design. This includes a high-temperature production process that includes tempering, including the rim, which is laser cut. They also have a track-record of eco-friendly production, including numerous ISO certifications. A set of four 23.3 ounce “Gigi” red wine glasses will set you back about $53 or $13.25 per stem. The Gigi line includes a unique quasi-hexagonal design, angular, and somewhat squat in appearance. Though unique in aspect, these tend more towards being Burgundy glasses than Bordeaux glasses. Lacking the elegance of Huette, the shape still provides for enhanced swirling and aeration, and the squat appearance belies the large features. The white wine versions are more upright and slightly taller, though still with hexagonal lines, and hold 17.9 ounces. A set of four costs about $54 ($13.50 per stem), and I believe they also serve well for sparkling wines.
Zwiesel has numerous lines of Tritan wine glasses, in fact. Three other attractive options for a universal glass are the “Pure Bordeaux” and the “Cabernet” glasses, at 23 ounces (10.5” tall) and 18.2 ounces (9.6” tall), respectively. Cabernet is $55 for a set of six. Pure Bordeaux is $84, or $14 per stem. There is also a Pure Sauvignon for white wines (13 ounces), about $78 for six stems. The Forte collection Burgundy/Light Red and White Wine glass looks great and holds 13.6 ounces. It’s 8 ½ inches tall and 3.2” at its widest point. A set of six glasses costs about $72 or $12 a stem. The bowl widens enough to enhance swirling and aeration, which, combined with the tapering sides, make this a practical universal glass.
I also came across Gabriel Glass from Austria, which, after perusing the myriad styles from Speigelau and Zwiesel, was refreshing in that it offers a single universal wine glass, though in two editions, machine made and mouth blown (“StandArt” and “Gold”). The latter are much lighter and delicate, though both are lead-free crystal. A set of six StandArt glasses costs $195 or $32.50 per stem. The Gold line costs more than double this. These glasses are seamless and dishwasher safe. In fact, as with Denk’Art Zalto, it is recommended not to hand wash these glasses. Gabriel Glass claims to have found the perfect dimensions for a wine glass, including a broad base of 95 millimeters (3.74”). The walls of the glasses are elegantly curved, not straight. They reportedly hold a potential 16 ounces and are 9” in height.
Finally, I’m looking at Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson’s THE ONE glasses, which are lead-free crystal made in Europe. Andrea designed a single universal glass, with different sizes for red and white, featuring a narrow opening, angled to enhance swirling, and good depth. The stem is pulled, not fused, which should result in greater strength. The opening size may be a bit small so that your nose will touch the glass when tasting—not something attractive to me—and they appear prone to breakage (though honestly that holds true for most thin crystal wine glasses). The red version is 9” tall and a 4-pack of either the red or white glasses costs a tad less than $50, or $12.50 a stem, which is a great price for light German crystal.
The Verdict: Which Wine Glasses to Buy
For those undaunted by budget I recommend buying Josephine Huette. The distinctive, well-considered design combined with each one being a unique mouth-blown piece, makes these a stand out. The Universal glass has rapidly become extremely popular among wine connoisseurs, and if you want separate red and white glasses, these are available too.
Runner-up: The Gabriel Glass
For those wanting an elegant set of red and white crystal glasses, I recommend the mouth-blown Grasl Vigneron series.
Runner up: Spiegelau Gigi red and white
What am I going to order? I cannot resist trying THE ONE red wine glasses from Andrea Robinson. German crystal, professionally designed, holding 19 ½ ounces, and only $13.50 per stem is hard to beat. But I will order four and see how they perform with different wines.
My personal choice for a practical, affordable, and elegant universal wine glass? The Zwiesel Forte collection Burgundy/Light Red and White Wine glass. I would prefer a glass holding more than 14 ounces (full capacity), but I like the practical design, price, and elegant look. They will be great for wine tastings. That said, I’m also order a set from the Gigi line, as a runner-up, but not the red glass. I prefer the Gigi white wine glass height and its enhanced swirling capacity, with a generous enough capacity of almost 18 ounces. I also favor Zwiesel’s strong and longstanding eco-friendly commitments.
Stay tuned for the next wine blog, where I will review the wine glasses received!
Charlie Leary earned his PhD in history at Cornell University. He has served as a wine director for restaurants in New Orleans, southern France, Canada, Costa Rica and Panama since 1995. He is a certified Spanish Wine Specialist, Cava Educator and Expert and has studied wine through Washington State University, the Wine Scholar Guild, California Wine Institute, and the Rioja Academy. Charlie is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers.