Long before I learned how to recognize a good wine, I knew how to identify a good wineglass. Thanks to my father, who spent more than 30 years designing and selling glassware on behalf of just about every glass company in America and several abroad, my sister and I were probably the only 10- and 12-year-olds who were able to use the word stemware in a sentence or, for that matter, who were subjected to the occasional slide show on how glass is made. Our cabinets at home looked like what I imagined those in the United Nations' dining room must,spilling over with stemware from every glassmaking country in the world. We had cut-glass goblets from Germany and Ireland, bumpy glasses from Finland and squat ones from Sweden. There were glasses from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Canada and Mexico--and, of course, from across the United States. When I graduated from college and moved to New York, my father's first question wasn't the hoped-for "Do you need money?" but instead "What glasses do you want to take with you?"
All of this took place long before it became fashionable for wine drinkers to care deeply about glassware. Now it's almost impossible to find an oenophile who doesn't have an opinion on the subject. This particular development is by and large thanks to glassmaker Georg Riedel, a clever marketer who decreed that every grape deserves its very own specially de-signed wineglass. According to Riedel, "If you don't have the right glass, the wine is wasted." His company offers glasses not only for grapes like Char-donnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir but also for wines from such specific regions as Montrachet, Hermitage and Chianti Classico. For example, according to his company's marketing materials, Riedel's glasses for young Bordeaux wines with more than 12 percent alcohol are shaped to "direct the flow of wine to the tongue's tip/sweet zone," thereby deemphasizing the bitter tannins. Don't ever consider calling any of them glassware. They are "precision tools" to Mr. Riedel. And his precision doesn't come cheap. The Riedel "Hermitage" can cost as much as $75, the "Montrachet" around $57.
But there are plenty of people willing to pay--and to play. A wine collector I know has become so obsessed with his"tools" that when he makes a restaurant reservation he asks if he can bring not just a bottle or two but his own stemware as well. (I know that he pays a corkage fee for the wine; I'm not sure if he's levied a dishwasher's tax on his glasses.) Restaurants like Greens in San Francisco have gotten into the game, reserving certain glasses for customers who drink their most expensive wines. I guess that means a 1982 Mouton Rothschild might rate a Riedel, but a 1997 Pinot Grigio might merit a Fred Flintstone glass.