While there is no right or wrong way to drink your wine, whisky or any other spirit of your choice, there are scientifically proven ways and appropriate tools to enhance the experience. The proper glassware, especially those delicate crystal ones crafted by skilled artisans, helps develop and deliver the aroma and flavours of your liquid ambrosia.
Glassmaking dates back to at least 3,600 BC in Mesopotamia. Scholars believe the ability to create glass resulted from experiments with a mixture of silica and sand or ground quartz pebbles. Glass blowing, introduced some time in the first century, revolutionised glassmaking with techniques and tools still used today. The next big breakthrough in glassmaking came in 1674 when George Ravenscroft, an English glassmaker, developed lead glass and produced it on an industrial scale.
Lead glass is more commonly known as crystal glass, where the calcium component in regular glass is replaced with lead oxide. This not only raises the refraction index, resulting in more brilliance and clarity, but also makes the glass easier to work with, allowing the material to be spun thinner without compromising durability. Lead, however, had the nasty habit of poisoning people, so crystal glasses now use barium or zinc instead.
What’s in a glass
Whether for wine or for spirits, glasses come in many different shapes and sizes, the form of each provides a most technical function to the assessment of its intended beverage. As a basic reference, a typical glass has four main parts: Brim, Body, Stem, and Foot. For any type of glassware, each part carry unique qualities that help enhance the drinking experience.
While there are now glass manufacturers who produce varietal-specific wine glasses, a universal wine glass follows a standard form and functionality. For such a vessel, clarity is of utmost importance as it allows oenophiles to assess a wine’s colour, translucency and marks of quality.
Body: This should consist of a large bottom bowl that gives room for the vino to breathe and a top that subtly curves inwards towards the rim. This allows the bouquet to be optimally bundled. The lowest portion of the bowl should form a slight, outwardly curved V-shape to help “push up” the wine – especially when it is served in a small tasting portion – so that it reaches a larger surface area of the glass to release its fragrance.
Brim: The circumference of the brim should be big enough for your entire nose to enter the glass. A good brim allows the wine to flow onto your palate without you having to move your entire head backwards. A thin rim is also essential to let the wine flow easily onto the tongue.
Stem: Stems should be long and thin enough to be comfortably held in the hand, aiding the ease of swirling the glass to aerate the wine. Stemless wine tumblers might make for fuss-free drinking, but they encourage fingerprints on the bowl of the body.
Foot: This provides stability and needs to be in proportion to the length of the stem and wideness of the bowl. To give it proper balance in the hand, the foot should carry a certain heft in proportion to the weight of the glass.
There are generally two types of glasses when it comes to imbibing spirits: the snifter that enhances nosing and the wide tumbler that can really improve a drinker’s enjoyment.
Tumbler: If you are looking for a glass to enjoy whisky, bourbon and the like, the most common is the low-ball tumbler. More importantly, this one’s for filling with ice and your favourite spirit or for serving up classic cocktails such as an Old Fashioned. The wide rim releases aromas quicker while the wide base makes it perfect for muddling cocktail ingredients, and the design lets simple drinks speak for themselves.
Snifter: Commonly used for brandy, the short-stemmed snifter is now very much a glass for the consumption of dark, aged spirits in general. The wide bowl bottom increases the surface area of the spirit exposed to the air, allowing for aromas to be coaxed out, while the narrow mouth concentrates these aromas for the nose to easily pick them out.
A well-made crystal glass can enhance the drinking experience. Properly shaped, a glass can concentrate desirable aromas, dissipate unwanted ones, and help aerate the liquid in your glass.
The best ones are thin and light, and their form, smooth and continuous so as to seem almost ethereal. The microscopic pores of crystal glass also help develop a beverage’s aromas when it’s swirled in crystal stemware. Crystal glasses are also good for keeping the temperature of their contents.
Between handmade crystal glasses and those manufactured by machines, the former’s edge lies in their fineness. Usually blown from a single piece of glass, handmade glasses are seamless and skilled glassmakers can achieve a thinness unmatched by any machine. As temperature can affect the viscosity of the glass, a human glassmaker can adapt to changes in atmospheric circumstances when blowing, whereas a machine is programmed to work at a specific velocity. In this instance, man is more precise than machine.
Caring for your glassware
Given its delicacy, crystal glassware deserves special attention. Proper usage and care will ensure your glasses retain their brilliance and last a long time.
Usage: To avoid unwanted tastes and odours in your glassware, don’t let liquids sit in a crystal glass for too long. Crystal glasses contain microscopic pores and crevices that can trap residue and deposits over time.
Cleaning: Hand washing in lukewarm water works best. To get rid of grease and wine stains, use a mild detergent. To prevent scratches, don’t use abrasive sponges.
Drying: After rinsing, dry crystal glasses with a soft lint- free cloth or special microfibre towels to avoid water spots. Alternately, you can air-dry them upside down on a stem mat.
Storage: Glasses should be stored in a well-ventilated area such as a specialty hanging glass rack. For shelves, use a soft mat to protect glasses from hard surfaces and provide air-flow for air-drying. Try not to store glasses upside down as the rim is the most fragile part of the glass and extended pressure on it might encourage chipping and/or breakage.