The Wine Dilettante's Recommendations on Glasses and Other Accessories

Glasses and other accessories are extremely helpful to improving the wine experience. The key is to get the needed function without breaking the bank. If you can't find these accessories locally, check out the mail-order company International Wine Accessories (1-800-527-4072).

Glasses. The most important thing about a wine glass is its size--the bigger the better for capturing the wine vapors and funneling them to your nose. A good red wine glass should be over 20 ounces. Just remember to fill it no more than one-third full! Dessert wine glasses are normally small, six to eight ounces, to avoid overpowering alcoholic vapors. Just keeping the temperature in the proper range will go a long way to controlling that problem, however.

Shape also influences flavor by how the glass guides the wine onto the tongue, but if you swirl the wine in your mouth anyway, the glass shape will only affect the initial attack. Pinot Noir (Red Burgandy) glasses are notoriously different, but for me the difference is primarily aesthetic. Save your money and get one set of glasses.

There are two other issues to keep in mind when purchasing glasses. First is lead. Good crystal consists of over 20% lead and acidic substances can cause crystal to leach lead. Experiments in the US and Canada (I looked at several government and university web sites) indicate that the lead imparted by drinking wine in crystal wine glasses is negligible unless the wine is left in the glass overnight. Do not store wine in a lead decanter or drink wine left in a glass overnight (it will be gross anyway). It is recommended that new glasses be soaked for 24 hours in vinegar and thoroughly cleaned to remove surface lead residue from manufacturing. Children and pregnant women should not drink from containers containing lead. Pregnant women and young children should not be drinking wine anyway since alcohol itself can stunt development. If you want to have no contact with lead, look for lead-free glasses. The second issue is cleaning. A glass with a narrow mouth and deep bowl will be hard to clean and will discourage use.

The mostly widely acclaimed wine glasses are Reidel Crystal. They make a glass for every kind of wine it seems, in both machine-made (affordable) and man-made models (unaffordable). You only need one glass, however. A great Reidel glass is the Brunello di Montelcino glass from their machine-made Vinum series, which has a 22 ounce bowl with a mouth that is large enough to permit easy cleaning. The San Diego Wine Company has great prices on Reidel and will special order for you. They charge $99 for six Brunello di Montelcino glasses and will even sell you individual glasses for $16.50. These are rock-bottom prices for crystal that is aesthetically pleasing, well made, and especially designed for wine drinking. If you would like to pay less for glasses, check out a chain like Crate & Barrel, sticking to the bigger glasses.

Wine storage. There are three aspects to wine storage: racking, temperature control, and recorking. Since wine should be stored in the dark anyway, I don't spend money on racking. I just use sturdy wine boxes that I get from the wine store. This only works if you don't have a lot of wine. These boxes do not stack well on their sides. I've been looking looking into wine refrigeration options, since I don't have a basement to store my wines. These tend to be expensive because the devices are designed to maintain a narrow temperature and humidity range, minimize vibration, and be attractive. Koolspace is the new kid on the block, with ``affordable'' wine storage. A more affordable option is the Wine-Stat control unit, which adds an external thermostatic control to an existing refrigerator (BH Enterprises, 1-800-973-9707). I use the Vacuvin recorking system for storing a partially finished bottle of wine. It is inexpensive and the vacuum device is separate from the cork, so you can buy extra vacuum corks if you want to save several bottles. I use the Private Reserve gas bottle for extra protection, which costs less than $10 and lasts for dozens of bottles of wine.