Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Which Stemware Should I Use For My Pinot Noir?

For many of you, especially my wine geek pals, this going to be laughing-out-loud basic, but I was reminded today that there are a lot of people who don't know how much the proper size and shape of stemware are critical to the enjoyment of pinot noir and all wines. Since this is a blog about Oregon wine and especially pinot noir, I'm going to address that issue.

Georg Riedel (REE-dle) of Riedel Glas Austria was the man who, along with support from wine critic Robert Parker and the recently deceased Robert Mondavi, popularized stemware designed specifically for each type of wine. Previous to his efforts that started in the mid-'80s, stems came in essentially three shapes - red wine (larger), white wine (smaller) and Champagne. The Champagne glasses were those little flat things that dissipated the bubbles and are rumored to have been modeled after Marie Antoinette's breasts, but I digress.

Georg designed stems for Bordeaux (cabernet), Burgundy (pinot noir), riesling, sangiovese, syrah and a host of others. He's even designed a stem specifically for Oregon pinot noir (as opposed to Burgundy or California pinot noir) that's very pretty and some people swear by it. Riedel's stemware is excellent, but they're expensive ($20-25 each for the machine-made stems and up to $90 for the handblown models) and they're really easy to break.

I used to buy Spiegelau stems because they were much more reasonable, but that company has been bought by Riedel and the quality has slipped a bit while the price has crept up. About a year ago I discovered the stems from Schott Zwiesel. They're made with lead-free crystal and, with an addition of titanium, they're much more difficult to break. I haven't broken one in a year and believe me, that's some sort of record. They're not UNbreakable, but they will stand quite a bit more abuse than Riedels. Just remember that the easiest way to break a glass (other than dropping it or smashing it on the kitchen faucet) is to twist the stem off while drying it by hand. The Schotts aren't immune to that, which is why I use the dishwasher, but if you live where the water is hard they're gonna spot, so just be careful.

This is the shape you need for pinot noir. Notice the shape of the bowl. It's much more rounded than what you might expect and it's much larger, too. They hold almost 25 ounces, so you can get almost a whole bottle in one which, of course, you don't want to do. Just pour 4-6 ounces in the bottom and give yourself room to swirl and sniff.

You're probably thinking I'm out of my mind; that it doesn't really make any difference. Well, I'll tell you, I've performed an experiment many times with people who thought I was nuts and it's worked every single time. Pour some pinot noir into a smaller glass - your grandmother's crystal will work fine, as will any small wine glass or even a jelly jar - and some into a glass like the one above. Smell both. You won't believe the difference, and it even carries over into the flavors.

Put your old stems in the next garage sale and get some of these. They're available from Amazon, and they're a bargain at $12 each.


  1. Are you sitting down? Brace yourself.. We only have one type of wine glass and they have NO stems! It was the ONE thing that Chris wanted on our registry and so it is. Guess you'll bringing your own glasses if you come to dinner at our place ;)

  2. Heather, it's all about the shape of the bowl, and your "stems" fit in the dishwasher much better. The fingerprints though . . . EEyeeeewww!

  3. By the way . . . speaking of coming to dinner at your place . . . where's our invitation? Bwaaahahahaha!

  4. I didn't know that.......and I used to live in the Dandenong ranges, which is at the entrance to the Latrobe valley which is one of Victoria's wine districts. I am not sure what my glasses are but they do have stems lol

  5. Stemware.....this is news to me. Good news too, cause I've learnt something. I knew different wines were served in different glasses (red wine glasses, white wine....etc) but I didn't know that different varieties of wine were enhanced by stemware. Thanks..and so what would you drink a Beaukoulais nouveau in...for this is the season?