Stem of truth

stockxpertcom_id761725_size3Does stemware really make a difference? Ben Canaider raises his glass to find the answer.

This month we are going to turn our attention to glasses. I mean stemsware. Yes, posh wine people don’t drink wine from glasses; they drink wine from stemsware. Stemware, singular; stemsware, plural. It is worse than trying to address a room full of attorneys-general.

Fair enough, too, for there are many things to evaluate and consider when it comes to glasses. Rolled rim, cut rim. Riedels, cheapies, embossed, staff cleaning policies, fill levels, different glasses for different wines…

Yet as important as all of this is, one thing remains tantamount—what does the customer see and interpret the moment they have their glass of wine put before them? Many of them judge books by covers. This is not surprising. People buy wine in retail outlets based on the label, so why wouldn’t they make decisions about wine sold to them in restaurants by the look of the glass?

Glass. This is your first option. Cheap, rolled rim wine glasses invariably called ‘bistro’ in the catalogue. A million styles exist, but nothing can detract from the chunky, clunky nature of these glasses. Durable they may be—they often have low centres of gravity, so they don’t tip over easily—but they’re ugly. They also suffer from visible ageing, particularly in glass washers.

The great advantage with rolled rim glasses is that the very rim in question is less likely to chip. A chipped rim and the glass can be quite rightly handed back over the bar—to you and your til. This is why some of the cheap-cut rim glasses provided by some of the bigger wine and liquor distributors can be more trouble than they’re worth.

Cut rim glasses. Usually made from crystal glass, these receptacles have a much classier look to them. But they do chip and break more easily than rolled rim glass. Restaurateurs with the right attitude always have a range of posher glasses for their better (a.k.a., more expensive) wines. My local wine bar plays this trick—rolled rim, clunky glasses over the bar, but better quality crystal-cut rim stemsware at the table with posh wine.

Slightly upmarket. Luigi Bormioli C101s. Without doubt this is my favourite cut rim wine glass. With a capacity of 410 mls, they are a great all-rounder. Good for tastings, and good for all sorts of white, red and fortified wines. They are even a handy mixed drink glass. Their bowl is well proportioned, and the stem is not too long. The cut rim edge does chip, however, but not as much as other crystal-based stemsware.

Posh. Riedel. And Riedel is the poshest of all lead crystal. These glasses—in a vast range of styles and designs—set you apart from the mob. Wholesale prices can be daunting, however, and these stems should really only be bothered with by restaurants with bankrupting wine lists. They also need hand washing and polishing, which is good work for floor staff with nothing better to do.

Embossing. This is a good capital expense on many levels. You might have to order in bulk, and you might have to put up a design fee to get the embossing started, but then you’ve got three distinct features: 1. It is your glass—it is a brand extension and brand reminder. 2. The embossing can also act as a fill-level indicator to all staff. Work out where 150 mls comes to on the embossed logo and that’s your automatic measure. 3. The logo can be reprised on menus, email signatures and all marketing. One of the best wine glass logos I’ve ever seen was a scrawl by the restaurateur’s three-year-old daughter. True story…

Another true story—never let staff polish wine glasses whilst engaged in conversation with their colleagues. All they do is go “like, NO!!! That’s amazing!” before snapping the stem off the glass in their hands. A Zen-like approach is needed for glass polishing, particularly when the glasses are $$$ Riedels.

One last word: when it comes to glass shape and size, stick to a generous tulip-shaped glass. In other words, keep it simple.

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