Decantress's guide to spare-no-expense stemware.

By Carson Demmond
Updated May 24, 2017
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Credit: © Kara Pyle

Dear Decantress,
Two friends of mine are getting married next month. They're both fairly well off and want for nothing, which makes it difficult to decide what to get them as a gift. Do you have any recommendations for wine glasses that are more on the high-end? They drink all kinds of wine, but the bride tends to gravitate towards hearty reds. Does the shape of the glass matter? –Stumped

Dear Stumped,

You’re right to ask for guidance, because there are plenty of high-end glassware options out there that go long on aesthetic embellishment but short on actual function. A true wine lover enjoys a quality glass for its ability to transmit a wine’s aroma, much in the same way that a music lover appreciates a good quality set of speakers. Glasses designed with a wine's expression in mind tend to be beautiful in a less-is-more kind of way. Think: a thin but durable bowl (nothing says ‘cheap and clunky’ more than a thick-lipped glass) and a seamless stem (i.e. there’s no joint between the stem and the bowl).

Most folks in the trade lust after the glasses from an Austrian company called Zalto. You'll see them used at many top restaurants with serious wine programs. They're gorgeous, hand-blown lead-free crystal, extraordinarily light in weight, with a very sleek, ultra-thin stiletto-like stem. Once you get hooked on Zalto, it’s hard to go back to regular glasses. Anything else feels awkward and cumbersome by comparison. The Universal Glass will work for just about any wine type, but if the couple drinks mostly full-bodied reds, the Bordeaux Glass might be more their speed.

A relatively new line from Riedel that I’m also fond of is Superleggero. Its Burgundy Grand Cru glass mimics the shape of its predecessor – the Sommeliers series Burgundy glass – but has the lightweight feel that its name suggests. At $139 a stem, they're not cheap, but Riedel claims they’re even dishwasher-safe, which is an impressive feat for something hand-blown. If you want something in a smaller format check out their Veritas line. I use the Pinot Noir shape at home for whites and light- to medium-bodied reds. The Syrah shape would be great for those heartier wines the couple in question enjoys. Plus, being machine-blown, they don’t feel quite as precious, so you can cry a little less when one breaks.

A decanter is also a great gift option, and the examples from Riedel’s Handmade line are particularly epic. The only thing I'd avoid is heavy cut crystal. Those goblets may look pretty on a shelf, but they don’t do anything for a wine's expression and are impractical for everyday use.

Have a wine situation? Send your questions to Food & Wine's Decantress at