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Oct 10, 2009 06:58 PM

Does Wine Taste More Pronounced In Crystal Stemware Versus Glass?

I must say after having this brought to my attention by a server in a vineyard tasting room I think that it might have some merit. I drank wine tonight out of both crystal and glass stemware and I do taste more out if the crystal. Now it could be the power of suggestion or it could bd as the server told me, the surface of crystal is rougher than glass and brings out more flavor as a result. Any experience with this or any other thoughts?

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  1. Is your question about any type of crystal, or a specific producer? This topic tends to come up with respect to Riedel stemware, and whther or not the investment is worth it--particularly in the different designs of stems for different types of wine.

    The Riedel devotees will generally state that the shape of the bowl does make a difference for certain wines. The pushback, then, is can a glass vessel achieve the same affect as crystal if the bowl shape is the same? Here, the crystal purists will also add that crystal doesn't have a "lip" on the rim of the bowl. This means that the contents pour directly onto the proper place of the tongue. A bit of a stretch for me, but there you have it.

    The rougher microscopic surface point helps for sparkling wines (more places for bubles to emanate from).

    But I think for the majority of wines, anything neutral (not plastic, not paper, etc) works just fine.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Brad Ballinger

      >>the surface of crystal is rougher than glass and brings out more flavor as a result.<<

      >>The rougher microscopic surface point helps for sparkling wines (more places for bubles to emanate from).<<

      You both make mention about the surface of crystal being rougher than typical glass - I've heard the same. I don't know the exact processes or the specific differences in compounds that go into making glass stemware versus crystal, but aside from the rougher surface, maybe there is some sort of electrolysis that occurs when the wine comes into contact with the minute particles of lead, zinc, or whatever other minerals are being used in crystal these days? Was that last sentence a serious run-on? :)

    2. From what I've been told, "crystal" is a meaningless marketing term. No commercially available wineglass is made from a material with a crystalline structure. Historically, the word was (incorrectly) used to describe glass with high amounts of lead oxide. But now Riedel and others are making "lead-free crystal."

      "Lead-free crystal" is just glass. Riedel and others spend a lot of time and effort designing high-quality glasses, then make them to exacting standards using high-quality materials so that the glass accentuates the wine. More power to them for it. But except for lead-based glass, the material they're using isn't crystal in any sense of the word, it's just a high-quality glass.

      Of course, maybe the info I have is wrong. Love to hear more from those in the know.

      1 Reply
      1. re: alanbarnes

        A couple of months ago, James Siking in Wine Spectator had an Op-Ed artlcle on stem ware, saying he had just decided to us a couple for reds, whites and I presume desert wines. I do not have the artlcle in front of me for accuracy. I do not recall if he discussed the quality of glass. I do know that I personally desire stemmed over non stemmed, just the way it feels in my hand. You also have the choice with stemmed to cradle the bowl to add or not add warmth.

      2. Great stems from Reidel, Spieglau, etc matter a ton. Especially when you are serving value-priced wine, which seems to benefit more from $15-20 stems than say first growth Bordeaux.

        Here's what I believe - quality crystal glasses have thinner edges which do a better job of laying the wine on your tongue. Shape of glass also matters a ton. I have done many side-by-side comparisons and I just like Reidel Vinum better than my previous $5 stems from Bed Bath Beyond.

        I highly recommend that you do one yourself. You can buy Reidel Vinum in a 2-pack and do a taste test at your next dinner party.

        3 Replies
        1. re:

          Update - I did another two rounds of tastings with Reidel vs. other inexpensive glasssware. Not only did Reidel win 3 out of 4 tasters, but people noticed the elegance of a well made wine stem as well.

          1. re:

            I don't doubt your findings, but tasters can be psychologically influenced based upon sight and touch.

            There is at least one scientific study which blinded tasters and used a machine to control the aeration and "sniff height" using various glassware, with the result being there was almost no difference between a $1 goblet and a $50 Riedel handblown stem.

            That being said, do what gives you the most pleasure out of wine, which is really all that matters.

            1. re: Cary

              See also Daniel Zwerdling's famously debunking article "Shattered Myths," published in the August 2004 issue of Gourmet.

              Since tongue-mapping has been shown to be a fallacy (and one based on a misreading/mistranslation of a German-language study), I'd love to see an explanation of the physics behind the claim that varietal-specific or other glasses do a "better job of laying wine on the tongue." I'm not holding my breath.