From the latest Riedel to the toughest schooners, your stemware says a lot about the kind of establishment you have.
Remember when wine bottles all came with corks in the top? Those old-fashioned rubbery things that needed their own dinky little screwing tool to open? Aah, the memories.
It might seem like a long time ago that the screw-top revolutionised wine storage, but the same technology which killed the cork could be poised to strike your table settings. And this time, it’s likely to be targeting anything with a stem. (Or not, as the case may be.)
Ever since Riedel introduced its hedonistic ‘Sommeliers’ stemware collection in the ’70s, with a subtly different silhouette of mouth-blown crystal to suit 10 different grape varietals, drinkers have been less concerned with whether their glass was half-full, and more concerned with how suitable the vessel was in the first place.
Many connoisseurs say that’s rightly so, claiming the trail of innovation left in Riedel’s wake makes their coveted creations ‘much more than wine glasses’ and wholly deserving of the place currently held by a 1958 Burgundy Grand Cru glass in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Others, however, claim it’s a load of hogwash. Forget the latest ‘O Series’ stemless craze—recent research claims the ‘tongue map’ technology at the heart of most of Riedel’s ranges simply doesn’t exist.
“Your brain doesn’t care where taste is coming from in your mouth,” said researcher Linda Bartoshuk in a scathing 2004 article published in Gourmet Magazine. “Researchers have known this for 30 years.”
But regardless of which side of the tongue you sit on, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on your restaurant stemware collection and its ability to marry with latest technology as well as your decor. Because splashing your customers’ Billecarte Salmon into toughened glass at the start of their dining experience is unlikely to have them sticking around for dessert.
Take stock of your stems
Unless you’re a three-hatted restaurant catering for a cashed-up corporate crowd, or a dusty wine bar specialising in rare Bordeaux, having 200 wine glasses for every varietal known to man is probably an overly expensive way to collect dust.
Having some quality stemware suited to a healthy range of wines that tick all the right boxes in terms of aesthetics and durability, however, is another matter entirely.
Savvy restaurateurs and caterers should be able to get by with a good champagne flute, a couple of large-bowl red wine glasses, a more delicate white glass, and a smaller vessel for stickies or digestives. If your establishment does cocktails or bespoke beers, you’ll need options for those too—just how technical you choose to get with each lug of alcohol is up to you.
New Australian glass manufacturer, Plumm, has recently teamed up with wine writer Matt Skinner, in paring back stemware to just five wine glasses: one for bubbles; two for red; and two for white.
And in Skinner’s own words, it’s a brave step.
“Opinion has long been that you need several different types of glasses depending on the style of wine you are drinking,” he explains.
“But after extensive research, we’ve discovered that five glass sizes is all that’s needed to cover the different wine styles. It is a revelation in simplicity and balance, and a brave new step for the wine-world.” Plumm’s new range is available in four materials to suit a range of price points: Hand-blown crystal caters for the big end of town, followed by more user-friendly options in machine-made dishwasher-friendly glass, durable stemless ranges, and unbreakable polycarbonate.
“Whether you are a wine aficionado, or just enjoy the occasional drink, the hard work is already done for you here,” Skinner spruiks.
“You can sit back and enjoy your favourite drop knowing you are getting the best out of the wine, and drinking it the way the winemaker intended you to.”
The philosophy that allows wine to be tasted exactly as the winemaker intended underpins Riedel’s own approach to marketing their higher-end product.
“The Australian consumer is very wine savvy these days,” explains Mark Baulderstone, director of RSN Australia, which imports premium Riedel and Spiegelau. “When a customer buys a glass of wine they are making an investment in flavour. The Riedel family discovered over 50 years ago that the shape and size of a glass is responsible for protecting this investment. A glass designed for the variety will enhance it—otherwise you just have a product that holds liquid, rather than one that presents the wine in the correct way.”
RSN likens the use of varietal-specific stemware to a decanter for preparing special wines—it’s a way to ensure the wine is enjoyed in its prime.
Like its more lowly stemware cousins, high-end brands like Riedel and Spiegelau also offer a range of materials that represent corresponding price points, durability and design. So, all you need to do is match your customers’s expectations with your need for durability, and your stemware makeover is complete.
When it comes to durability, the problem of using beautiful but highly breakable crystal gives way to a whole new world of technology.
Arguably, one of the local leaders in crystal durability is Luigi Bormioli, distributed by Crown Commercial. The manufacturer has recently launched a new range called ‘Vinoteque’, made from lead-free crystal glass known as SON.hyx, which boasts outstanding transparency and a 30 per cent higher resistance to breakage.
According to Crown Commercial product manager Tim Russell, invisible molecules of titanium reinforce the glass and increase its resistance to breakage, abrasion, chips and stem twist—a common cause of damage from hand-drying high-end stemware.
He says the move towards toughened, high-tech materials represents an increasing need for durability. “Most establishments these days are looking for options that reduce replacement costs, occupational health and safety issues, and patron damage.
“For instance, the Crown Glassware ‘Atlas’ stemware collection uses fully toughened glass that’s four to six times stronger than regular glass, as well as shock and heat resistant,” he says, also pointing to new polycarbonate ranges that are virtually unbreakable.
In selecting stemware for any restaurant or catering business, Russell advises considering the stacking height of the dishwasher in the premises, as not all stemware fits all commercial racking systems.
“Durability, the capacity of the stemware to be used for all purposes, and the correct shape for the varietal to be served are also important considerations,” he says, explaining that modern technology allows all these briefs to be met.
Malcolm Lockie, from Bormioli Rocco, agrees any technology that counters the beauty of crystal with the durability of tougher materials potentially makes for the ideal wine glass.
“Key developments are coming from an increase in demand for finer bowls and rims without compromising on durability,” he says.
Bormioli Rocco’s latest offering that meets this brief is ‘Electra’—a lead-free crystal ‘star glass’ that boasts exceptional levels of purity.
“Electra is elegant, with fine rims and high resistance to wear and dishwashing, thanks to the new glass composition,” Lockie says.
“The other important development is increased demand for fully tempered stemware that is not only very strong, but looks good,” he adds, pointing to Bormioli Rocco’s three stemware ranges, ‘Kalix’, ‘Sara’ and ‘Dulcinea’, which are fully toughened in both the rim and stem.
“They are aimed at not only reducing breakage, but also creating a great impression on the table.”
Which is surely all anyone wants… aside from their own glass to sip from, of course.