If you think size counts, you really should show some glass
The most important quality in a glass is the effect that its shape has on the flavour of the wine
Daniel Primack is the sort of man who comes around to your house for dinner armed not just with a bottle of wine, but with his own wine glasses, because yours won’t be good enough. Not many people do that. Even fewer people do that when they sold you your glasses in the first place.
But Primack wanted to drink his Rousseau out of a Zalto burgundy glass, not the one-glass-fits-all-wines Zalto Universals he knows I have in my cupboard. And I certainly wasn’t going to stand in the way of a little extra pleasure.
“You have to know how to enjoy things,” said Primack, lifting two ultra-fine, bulbous glasses out of their box. “It doesn’t just happen. It takes effort.” I looked nervously at the food cooking on the stove – ingredients delivered, and just 45 minutes shorn from my day to do a bit of basic chopping, peeling and frying prep. In my life, 45 child-free, work-free daytime minutes are the equivalent of an all-day spa treatment. But I had a feeling this was not going to come up to scratch.
Still, I agree with Primack. It takes effort to snag theatre tickets, identify and buy good wines, trek across town to the bakery that makes fantastic bread and all the rest of it. It’s just that – who has time (and money) to put effort into everything?
I really mind about my wine glass. When it comes to social drinking, I’m increasingly seduced by qualities you’d expect to appreciate with senses other than smell and taste. A thin glass feels more elegant on the lips. A glass with attractive curves, that sparkles in the light, brings both pleasure and a sense of anticipation. A glass that balances just so in your hand is very pleasing. Weight matters, too.
Once, heavy glasses were more prized, but the rise of super-fine non-lead crystal has altered our perception of what is luxurious, and a glass that seems lighter than it ought now feels more refined. Many would argue, and I wouldn’t disagree, that these qualities can have an impact on your perception of the wine’s flavour, too. As you’d expect, given that I taste wine for a living, for me the most important quality in a glass is the effect that its shape has on the flavour of the wine.
Many studies have shown that glass shape affects not just hedonic appreciation but also flavour perception, although a cat among the pigeons comes from psychologist Charles Spence, who contends that the glass has no impact on tasting experience unless you can see or feel it. You can imagine the sort of bizarre experiments, conducted with blindfolded participants whose heads are in clamps, a glass positioned awkwardly under their nose, required to draw such conclusions.
I’ve seen the studies on which Spence’s position is based and I’m not convinced. I want to be able to analyse (if tasting) or enjoy (if drinking) the wine easily, and fairly, so choose my glasses with great care.
I do appreciate the impact that a specialised glass – like the ones Primack brought around – can have if you pick the right brand (I’ve conducted glass tastings, trying the same pinot noir, say, from a variety of pinot noir glasses, and they don’t all work) and if you don’t get too silly about it (the production of specialised glasses has got rather out of hand, especially when you consider the vast differences found between wines in any given class).
Even so, I don’t have as many types of glass in my kitchen cupboards as you might imagine. Partly that’s because I can’t stand the clutter, partly it’s because I don’t drink enough fine wine at home to specialise, and partly it’s because I don’t find the act of searching for precisely the right wine glass appealing, I find it a faff.
I don’t even hold with the idea of having different glasses for red and for white. I usually find that in any particular set, either the red glasses are too big, or the white too poky. Plus the idea of the red/white glass feels a bit daft.
Why not just have one well-proportioned one? Jancis Robinson is of the same mind. This year – in collaboration with Richard Brendon – she launched a “collection” containing just one wine glass. Yes, one wine glass.
Like the Zalto, the Robinson glass is divinely light, very expensive and elegant to behold. I like it very much for sparkling wines, and some whites, but it has not yet swayed me away from my two stalwarts as an overall drinking glass. Did I say two? Ah, yes.
Rather than using one glass for white and one for red, I tend to use one for everyday (moods or wines), and one for smart. The everyday is the Riedel Vinum Gourmet Water Glass; the smart is the Zalto Universal. I don’t break many glasses, and find the investment increases pleasure more than trading up a rand or two on bottle price, so it repays itself.
For clumsier/less bothered drinkers, the important thing is to use a glass that narrows towards the top, and that isn’t too small.
As Primack probably wouldn’t say, only you can decide how much the glass is worth.
- © The Daily Telegraph