Wine is ultimately a sensory experience. Namely, taste and smell. And while it may seem counterintuitive, when it comes to wine, smell is the more important of the two.
Taste only really registers a handful of flavors: sweet, sour, salty and bitter, with umami hanging out there as a complicated fifth. Smell, however, comes in by the thousands. And with wine, the shape and substance of the vessel determines the value of your first impressions.
In this way, wine glasses are a lot like haircuts. The glass frames the wine, and certain shapes accentuate certain features. Big bulky containers (like, say, a thick-rimmed goblet) call attention to themselves and hide the finer contours of the wine. You get the basic idea but none of the transcendent possibilities. Whereas finely cut stemware stands back, seems not to be there at all, and lets the wine unfold in its most elegant fashion. A little swirl, a play of the light. A kiss. With a well-crafted glass, the encounter is more direct, more essential. The beauty of the wine is unlocked, revealed: The wine is allowed to shine on its own terms.
These days, choices in stemware abound. But you know how we do. Keep things simple.
Ravenscroft Vintner's Choice provides clear, affordable options. They're grounded in the past, but aiming toward the future. With shear rims and seamless bowl-to-stem transitions, they do everything they can to allow the wine to develop its own unique sensibility. The crystal is lead-free, which, yeah, is a bonus (you'd be surprised!). And the shapes are varied without being overwhelming. Four classic designs: Champagne/flute, Burgundy/pinot, Bordeaux/cabernet and Chardonnay Grand Cru.
In addition, we're sporting a few of their ancillary options. The now very popular stemless glass, which is fun as long as you're not palming it and heating the wine in your hands. A handsome little decanter. And two shapes for spirits: a sturdy rocks glass for a perfect Old-Fashioned, and a snifter for focusing the finer points of a neat whiskey, or brandy, or the like.
All this to say, a few of my favorite moments with wine have involved a plastic cup or a coffee mug. But that had more to do with the wonderful company and the shimmering lake and the crisp mountain air. And very little to do with the wine itself. Getting to a wine's essential character requires letting that character be revealed. Standing out of the way. Remaining, as it were, completely invisible. A glass can't actually improve a wine, but it can allow a wine to show everything it's got. And that's all any of us want. Pure and simple.