Breaking Out the Crystal by Chris Baggetta

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Chris Baggetta. Photo courtesy Quince restaurant.

San Francisco sommelier Chris Baggetta has more than a decade of wine service experience in some of the country’s most acclaimed dining rooms, including Eleven Madison Park in New York City and Quince in San Francisco. She has a strong passion for education and enjoys representing small producers from various wine regions and sharing their stories with her guests.

In regards to the more sensual pleasures in life, size does indeed matter, and the enjoyment of wine is no exception. When it comes to wineglasses, it’s not just size that is crucial, but also shape and thickness (or rather thinness, in this case). After years of working in fine dining restaurants and entertaining at home, I have become rather opinionated on the subject of stemware. The perfect wineglass is the marriage of elegance, functionality, and durability.

But perfect for whom? Which occasion? What type of wine? As a sommelier, I find myself describing why I chose a specific glass nearly as often as why I chose the wine I pour into it. Basically, wineglasses are shaped differently because some wines require more of the aroma to be delivered to your nose and palate. Red wineglasses have a wide, round bowl to help release the aroma of the wine. White wineglasses have a more tapered bowl with a narrow rim to keep the wine from being overexposed to oxygen. This, of course, is an oversimplification, as some whites require more air and some reds less, and thus opens up the argument for why there is such a variety of different glasses on the market today.

Let’s compare two common red wineglasses—a Bordeaux and a Burgundy. A Bordeaux glass is characterized by a broad bowl with a tall stem, ideal for highly tannic red wines with moderate acidity. Its shape directs the wine to the center of the tongue, creating structural harmony between fruit, tannin, and acidity in full-bodied wines like cabernet sauvignon or syrah. A Burgundy glass, with its wide bowl and tapered top, directs the wine to the tip of the tongue, highlighting fruit and balancing naturally high acidity. It is perfect for red wines with high acid and moderate tannins, such as pinot noir.

The thickness of the glass also has an impact on how the wine flows onto the palate. Thinner glass helps create a finer stream of wine that runs across the taste buds on your tongue. Keep in mind that the tongue itself reveals very little—just the five basic tastes of sweetness, sourness (acidity), bitterness, saltiness, and umami. Every other “taste,” we smell. As the wine enters the mouth, the aromas are taken into the back of the throat, where they are picked up by the olfactory bulb, which automatically analyzes them and transmits the information to the brain as various so-called flavors. A finer stream of wine means more of the wine is mixing with the air in your mouth, enhancing the aromas, while at the same time more surface area of the wine is also interacting with your taste buds.

And of course you need to consider how many different glasses you want to invest in. Do you prefer one universal shape for all wine styles? Or perhaps just two glasses—one for white and one for red? Or are you a convert to the philosophy of different glasses for different wines? Below, I have selected my personal favorite pieces of crystal, no matter which camp you find yourself in.

Best All-Purpose Glass: Spiegelau Vino Grande Burgundy ($10 per stem)
This is my go-to everyday wineglass at home. These crystal glasses are durable, dishwasher-safe, and break-resistant. They are composed of high-quality silica, which allows for brilliant clarity, even after years of washing. This glass has a wide bowl that holds 25 fluid ounces, and while it is designed for red wine, I find white to be equally enjoyable from this glass.

Best White and Red Glass: Schott Zwiesel Fortissimo White Wine Glass and Bordeaux Goblet ($15 per stem)
Made from patented “Tritan” crystal glass, these lead-free stems have long-lasting brilliance, shatter-resistance, and are dishwasher-safe. While all of Schott Zwiesel’s glassware lines are made Tritan crystal, I prefer the Fortissimo line, which is designed with particularly long stems. And since the stems are heat-reinforced for extra durability, you can enjoy the elegant feel without fearing that they will snap.

Best Grape Variety-Specific Glasses: Riedel Vinum Extreme ($30 per stem)
Riedel was decades ahead of its peers in terms of conceptualizing grape variety-specific stemware. As early as 1958, they developed their iconic Sommelier Series Burgundy Grand Cru Glass—a “beautiful monster” with the capacity of 37 fluid ounces representing a quantum leap in terms of wineglass design that earned a place in the permanent collection of the MoMA in New York. Today, Riedel boasts a variety of different glassware, though my favorite line remains the Vinum Extreme Series, which was designed in 2000 to showcase and highlight the unique structure of new-world wines.

Best Splurge: Zalto Burgundy Glass ($65 per stem)
If Riedel is the Chanel of the wineglass industry, then Zalto is its Alexander McQueen. These featherweight glasses are striking and dramatic, showcasing modern design and delicate edges. The development of the Denk’Art series was influenced by the Earth itself; the curve of the bowls are tilted at angels in accordance to the natural tilt of the Earth. Each glass is one single piece—handcrafted and mouth blown from bowl to stem. They are beautiful and luxurious, though at $65 per stem they may only make an appearance at dinners meant to impress.