What’s in a glass?

I am sure I am not the only one who has questioned if the quality of a wine glass really mattered.  So  long as you’re not trying to compare a plastic wine glass to one actually made of crystal, it is a valid question.

I think we all can agree on the basics, like the difference between a red or white wine glass so I am not even going to talk about that in this post.  Where the ‘what’s in a glass?’ really becomes questionable for many is when you see red wine glasses listed at a price point of $30 or more for one.  It is when you see red wine glasses advertised by varietal type, and at $30 or more for one.   At this rate, and with the differing wine varietals that you enjoy, your stemware investment could become quite hefty.  So, it is only natural that we question the benefit of such an investment. Could there really be something to this, or is it a gimmick to get suckers like me to invest?  If  you’ve wondered this, rest assured it is not a scam, there is something to it.

What the experts say

I performed my own test, where I opened up a bottle of Amarone (this is good to me regardless of what drinking device you put it in) and pulled out a red wine glass that came from a set of four that cost me $17.99, and then a red wine glass that was crystal and cost $30 per glass.  Believe it or not, up until this time I have never tasted wine from the two glasses side by side. I just pulled  one or the other out depending on the occasion, or how clumsy the person coming over was.  So I, like you,  was interested in knowing if the senses truly reacted differently or picked up on different things, depending on the quality of the glass.

On colour

I poured 2 oz of Amarone in each glass and began to observe. On colour, the crystal glass gave the wine a deeper scarlet hue, whereas the everyday glass appeared to show more hints of a rust like colour.

What the experts say: Those in the business of crystal engraving or selling crystal speak to the clarity of the material versus what they call ‘soda lime glass’, which is what our everyday wine glasses are made of.

When it comes to crystal, its reflective quality and the 24% lead content are most important traits. Crystal shows more clarity than a typical piece of soda lime glass. ~ Lori Verderame

On aroma

I then nosed the wine out of both glasses and both were pleasant and what you would expect to nose from an Amarone.   The only difference is that you were able to pick up more of the fruit in the crystal glasses, but it was not enough of a difference to pick one over the other in this category.

What the experts say: It seems my deduction of very little difference between the two wine glasses is shared by some experts. In 2000, the Ohio State University and the Monell Chemical Senses Centre blindfolded non-expert wine drinkers, rested their chins on strategically measured devices and had them smell wines from four different types of glasses, two of which were fine crystal stemware.  The results

…the glass does have a limited, but subtle, impact on the olfactory experience of wines.

The taste

Then the deal breaker. What the heck does it taste like?  On the everyday glass, you completely recognise that this is an Amarone; complexity in spice, fruit and depending on the winery maybe light mineral which just adds to the texture of the wine. However, when drinking the same Amarone out of a crystal glass, you note a distinct difference.  The same flavours were picked up on the palate with both glasses, but they blended and produced a more well-rounded mouth feel in the crystal glass. In the everyday glassware, each flavour was distinct, but not harmonious, making it somewhat distracting in comparison.

What the experts say: Those in the business of wine attribute the glassware impact on taste to the thinness of the crystal and often the shape found on these higher end glasses. Both of these attributes allow for better oxidation causing the full character of the wine to be experienced.


Though I recognise the difference between my grades of wine glasses, don’t be mislead. I do not see myself allowing clumsy Cathy to use the $30 glasses anytime soon. I am, however, in the market for a middle of the road stemware set, allowing clumsy Cathy to be over gestured, break glasses, but still enjoy whatever wine treat I am serving up.

I would love to hear your take on ‘what’s in a glass’.  Have you found a sensible stemware brand that you’d allow clumsy Cathy to use?  Let’s keep the conversation going.