A Micro History of the Wine Glass

As we all may know glass has not been around forever. We also know that wine's been around for thousands of years. That being said it's also safe to say that the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans probably didnt drink their wine from Riedel, Zwiesel, or di Cambio glasses. So what did they drink from? Well, we do know that as early as 50 AD Pliny the Elder of Rome said that glass was becoming the most esteemed vessel from which to drink wine. But glass at that time was so rare and difficult to make that it would be like today today the most esteemed vessel from which to drink wine is a Ferrari. I've never drunk wine from a Ferrari but I imagine it would be oily, or leathery, depending on which part of the Ferrari you were to drink from. Obviously the privilege of drinking wine from a glass at that time was held only by the highest officials. I question said glass from so long ago though. If you're familiar with rough cut Mexican glass than you know that though it's quaint and in several ways very cool at times you find ones that still have a sandy grain to them. I imagine glass from that time as being even worse.

Before glass inserted and even before glass became so easy to obtain there is a whole smattering of vessels from which people drunk wine. The list starts at clay cups which is most likely what the very first vintners drank their juice from. Early winos were also known to drink from wooden bowls as well as gourds and leather pouches. I can imagine any one of these signing their own special flavor to the wine. "Yum, that's a very good wine. The 81 BC vintage has always been my favorite. It brings a whole new meaning to using leathery as an appropriate adjective to describe wine.

Once mankind made it to the metal age I'm sure Bronze was used to make goblets as at that time it seemed that Bronze was used to make everything. When we learned to shape other metals to our will, gold, silver, and pewter were also common. Pewter for the commoners and no doubt jewel encrusted gold for King Author and the his Knights of the Round Table. Again, anyone who remembers how pewter, for a microsecond, was in fashion during America's Bicentennial can tell you drinking anything from it can be less than ideal. If you have fillings the last thing you want is a nice tall pewter cup of ice cold lemonade. I bet wine was not much different. And even though it looks romantic to drink from a gold cup I just do not trust anything made from a metal that is as easily pliable as any of those. I feel like little pieces of metal could be coming off in my drink. I'm sure in the future when everyone will be drinking wine from odd shaped titanium cups they'll all look back and laugh at how stupid we were to drink wine from such an easily breakable vessel. "ha, ha, those idiots from the twenty-first century were probably getting glass in their teeth all the time."

Even though we have examples of wine glasses that date as far back as the 15th century, it was the industrial revolution that we have to thank for being able to go to any store which sells drinkware and buy all kinds of glass vessels from which to drink anything imaginable. Glass no longer had to be made by a ninth generation glass maker from some tiny village in some obscure place so that only the king of said obscure place was the single one using it. Glass could now be manufactured in mass quantity for the masses to get their hands on. And like all products of the industrial revolution it became very in vogue to sip your wine from a glass under the cool glow of the single electric light you just had installed. Between that time and just recently a wine glass was a wine glass. Some were fashioned out of "crystal" and some made from plain old heavy glass. Even the ideal "crystal" glass has morphed into something much different over the last thirty years. I remember my Grandmother's set of fine crystal stemware. Etched to perfection and so thick and heavy in the hand it could have been used as a murder weapon. After a Google search I only turned up "reading a murder mystery while sipping from a crystal glass", but I imagine if you dig deep enough you'll find that someone at some point has hit someone else over the head with say, a crystal brandy bottle. Maybe it's just me letting my imagination run wild.

According to their website (and many others for that matter), it was Claus Josef Riedel who, in the seventies decided that the size, thickness, and shape of a glass does very much influence the flavor of what's in it. He then set about to do something which to me is not only cool but a stroke of marketing genius, and that is make an line of glasses for specific types of wine. Because of Claus we've gone from drinking wine out of animal skin to drinking it out of a glass for all occasions to drinking whites in one glass and reds in another to finally, with his help, having a choice of several glasses from which to drink wine from. Is that a red burgundy you're imbibing? Here's a special glass just for that but if it's a white burgundy then you need this glass but for gods sake do not let me catch you drinking a Bordeaux out of either of those. I have special glasses for those as well. Claus's first line of wine specific glasses were released in 1974 and called the Sommelier line. All of the glasses, though they vary shape and size, were made from thin, unadorned glass. If any of you are mumbling to yourself that Riedel only makes crystal then you must not know that "crystal" is still just a glass with a higher lead oxide level. It in no way actually has a crystalline structure. Just thought I'd throw that out there.

I can honestly say that ole Claus was on to something. A great wine glass does make a difference in the wine you are drinking but does that mean you need to run out and buy every one of the Riedels for every wine you may have the occasion to use? No. That would be every bit as OCD as I'm sure Claus had a tendency to be. I can not honestly attest to Claus' mental state though because nothing came up when I googled his name and OCD together. The glasses I keep at the house are of Claus' designed in as far as the actual bowl goes. They are the shape that is labeled Chardonnay, but not the Burgundy Chardonnay because that is more bowl like. Just the one labeled Chardonnay. Mine are different in that Maximillian Riedel, the eleventh generation of the Riedel glass makers, took the bow designs for the Sommelier line and chopped the stems off form his own uber popular O line. I like the Chardonnay shape because it's round enough that brings out the subtle flavors of pinots and chars while being tall and thin enough at the top to enhance bordelais grapes.

The Riedel glass has become so popular that one does not even have to buy Riedel to get these different glasses. Anyone can go to the local Megalomart and get a set of O style glasses made by Libby for a fraction of the cost. If you like stems on your glasses they have those too. Other major glass makers have followed suit in the bigger is better category and I feel as though I should mention a set of wine stems made by an Italian glass maker Arnolfo di Cambio that is called the Brunello Tecnio which has an aerator built into the bowl. I mention these because I worked at a restaurant for a while which used these and I must say it was the first time I realized the effect glass can have on juice. And at $ 137.00 you also can own your own set of two.

We've come a long way in the advancement of drinking vessels over the centuries and I for one say thank goodness. I realize that before tv people were able to live their lives so obviously I've become spoiled by my nice set of glasses and it's hard to imagine drinking wine from a sheep's bladder but if that was all there was to drink wine from … I'm not saying I would not do it.

Source by Nick Musial