With Wine Glasses, Sex Sells

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 09-30-2013

Flickr, Frank Fujimoto.

Flickr, Frank Fujimoto.

“The Riedel Sommelier line is by far the best stem for bringing out the true aromatics of any wine,” says my friend opposite me at the table, swirling his glass of Pinot.

“You’re crazy! Why spend that amount when you can get the same experience from Spiegelau Authentis for a fraction of the cost?” boasts my ever cost-conscience other friend to my left.

“Have you guys tried the Zalto Universal stems?” I ask, sounding a bit like proud parent.

Not a word was uttered. Nothing. Then came the dismissive looks. You would have thought I insulted their families. The two guys were completely unwilling to admit there are other viable options for enjoying wine. Oh sure, there are other glasses out there, but clearly inferior to their choice.

Wine enthusiasts take their glasses seriously. Many are just as proud of their glasses as they are with their wine — and take just as much care in selecting the right glass as they do with the juice inside. I’m sure we all know someone who has taken his or her own glasses to dinner because a restaurant doesn’t have appropriate stemware. Or perhaps you’ve been that person.

But do glasses really make that much of a difference? You bet they do.

I’m far from alone in this thought. Check any wine message board and you’re bound to come across a spirited debate over who makes the best glass and which shape is right for different wines. Are they lead-based? Hand-blown? One- or two-pieced? How thin is the rim? Are they fragile? What do they cost? Do they truly enhance the wine-drinking experience? The answers are plentiful.

While these are all very valid questions, and certainly play a large role in choosing stemware, I seriously doubt they’re actually the determining factor in any purchasing decision. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us will admit that we choose the glass by saying, “wow, those look really cool! I gotta have them!”

We all know sex sells, and with wine glasses it’s no different. I’m guilty of ogling over the pure aesthetics of a glass and convincing myself it must be superior. The more excited an individual is about a glass — the way it looks, feels, and how it accentuates the nose — the more fulfilling the experience. If that wasn’t the case, we could all save a lot of money and just drink from clear plastic cups. But what fun is that? Not much if you ask me.

For such a subjective topic, it always strikes me as odd that individuals tout certain brands as the be-all and end-all of the wine glass world. This shouldn’t surprise me, though. If people can’t agree on the best wine at a tasting, it stands to reason they aren’t going to agree on the best glasses for those wines. The debate will rage on forever .

Fortunately for me and my two friends that night, we all agreed on the best wine of the night. And we did so from our own glasses… that we each brought ourselves. Yes, we were those guys.

Jeb Singleton is a wine enthusiast in Washington, DC. This is his first post for Terroirist.com.

Comments (1)

  1. Ah, I was totally guilty of ogling over my wine glass at Charlie Bird in NYC last Friday. They were so freaking pretty.

    On another note, I did a tasting a few months ago with Riedel where they were presenting their newest Malbec glass (because why shouldn’t Malbec have its own glass?!?) and they did this interesting experiment.

    They had us all drink water out of differently shaped Riedel glasses and notice where the water touched our palate – both in general and sequentially. The rep there argued that that’s one of the primary reasons why the glasses are shaped differently for various wines. It actually kind of worked if you concentrated realllly hard…but I still agree with you that it’s all about the eye pleasure and the way the stem feels in your hand, etc.

    Good first post!