Wine Glasses Slim Way Down
Sommeliers say razor-thin rims bring the wine closer; 30% to 50% lighter
By Ellen Byron
Sept. 1, 2015
Phew! Lifting a wine glass is getting easier.
Wineglass makers are slimming down their already delicate stemware, promising that the feel of a lighter glass will enhance the sensations of sipping wine.
“The pleasure comes from holding something very light in your hand,” says Maximilian Riedel, CEO of Austrian glassware maker Riedel Crystal, a unit of Tiroler Glashütte GMBH. “The focus then is always on the wine.”
Ultra-thin wine glasses follow a series of design twists manufacturers have rolled out in recent years with hopes of tempting consumers to upgrade their drinkware. Colored goblets, giant bowls, varietal-specific shapes, towering stems and even no stems are among the latest styles to hit shelves.
Riedel (rhymes with “needle”) recently introduced two new “ultrathin” lines of glassware called Superleggero and Veritas that are as much as 30% lighter than its other designs. The lighter weight comes from using glass without lead, changing the design of the base and altering how the bowl and stem are attached.
The company, known for its feather-light glasses and seemingly razor-edged rims, says its newest glasses aren’t any more fragile. That is because the bowls and rims weren’t thinned. “The rim couldn’t go thinner-already when the glass kisses your lips you don’t even feel it, it’s that thin,” Mr. Riedel says.
A thin glass can enhance drinking wine because it brings the mouth and nose even closer to the wine, sommeliers say. The experience of lifting and holding an especially light wine glass doesn’t usually alter the flavor or fragrance of the wine, but elevates the theater and elegance of the process, they say.
“It’s almost like the glass itself disappears and it’s only you and the wine,” says Raj Vaidya, head sommelier at Daniel in New York. “It’s emotional, and wine drinking should be emotional.”
Even brands known for making heavy glasses are lightening up. Last year, Waterford, owned by Fiskars Corp. , introduced its Elegance line, which is 30% to 50% lighter than other Waterford designs. And in recent years the brand has added thinner-glass options to many longtime patterns, usually about 30% lighter in weight.
“We see lightweight glass as a very big opportunity,” says Regan Iglesia, Waterford’s senior vice president and global brand director. “In order to have the crisp rim that some people want, you have to have a light glass.”
Still, demand for heavier glassware remains, Mr. Iglesia says. While Waterford’s best-selling pattern is the lightweight version of its Lismore pattern, the original Lismore pattern-made of substantial crystal-remains number two. “A heavier glass allows for the deeper cuts we’re known for, it gives a lot more light refraction and brings in much more sparkle,” he says.
Some diners-especially men-at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in Las Vegas are hesitant to use the restaurant’s delicate crystal wine glasses, fearing they will break them. By way of compromise, the restaurant offers such guests a larger-but still lightweight-glass.
“We have big, beautiful burgundy and Bordeaux glasses that are very thin, says Adem Sash, sommelier and director of wine at Del Frisco’s Las Vegas. “These glasses still feel big in the hand but they’re not heavy.”
Patrick Cappiello, wine director and partner in New York’s Rebelle and Pearl & Ash restaurants, wishes he could upgrade to the ultrathin wine glasses he uses at home, but the industrial aesthetic of his bustling restaurants require something slightly more durable. “We’re trying to work toward using thinner and thinner glasses all the time because for me it’s the ultimate luxury experience in wine drinking,” he says.
Tony Ho Loke, a 42-year-old vice president at a public relations firm, still shudders from his wineglass mishap last year when he accidentally shattered a glass in a restaurant. That memory has him hesitating about investing in thinner glasses for his New York home. “I’ve noticed more restaurants and stores have those razor-thin glasses,” he says. “They are really beautiful, but I’m still afraid of breaking them.”
Crate and Barrel, owned by the German Otto Group, has been expanding its Vineyard collection of wine glasses over the past few years. The line is so lightweight that shoppers’ arms sometimes fly up when they lift them from the shelf, says Lindsey Burgeson, a Crate & Barrel product manager.
Ms. Burgeson says thinner glass doesn’t necessarily mean more fragility. Crate & Barrel’s glass manufacturers sometimes add strengthening ingredients to its glass blends. “That allows you to blow a thin, clear glass that’s also quite durable,” she says.
Accident-prone wine drinkers might follow the advice sommeliers give the waiters. “Slow down,” says Bill Burkhart, the sommelier for the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans. “That way far less will break.”