Today’s modern wine drinker is positively awash with choice in the glass department. Want to enjoy a crisp white? A stem that’s tall with a relatively narrow bowl will help keep your riesling or chardonnay cool and concentrate the delicate aromas. Looking to knock back some big-deal Burgundy? A wider bowl is your friend, so you can really get your nose in there and appreciate the pinot funk. And for enjoying bubbly, should you invest in some Champagne flutes? There’s no straight answer, but plenty of opinions — so it goes with just about every topic in the world of wine.
But for the aspiring wine connoisseur, seeking out a well-designed glass — one that allows you to expertly swirl, sip, and appreciate — is worth wading through the morass of options, simply because according to many wine experts, the particular shape of a glass really can make wine taste better. The argument that you need one glass for each type of wine, however, is only true where money is no object. And within the clubby hallways of the international wine industry, the topic of wine glass preference and providence is the stuff of a thousand debates. What’s undeniable is this: Although glassware brands Riedel and Zalto have become a shorthand for grown-up wine drinking, they are not the end-all be-all of high-end wine glasses on the market today. Indeed, there are some wine glasses so cultishly revered and sought-after you more or less have to know someone in order to get them.
Like so much thin crystal stacked in your cupboard, cutting through the clutter takes a careful eye. Below, find five of the most sought-after wine glasses currently on the market (listed from a little pricey to really expensive) to enhance your wine-drinking ritual, or at the very least, impress the budding wine snob in your life. (Perhaps you are the snob who is budding.) Please note: These rare objects of the atavistic silicate arts are all very fun and interesting, but none of them are particularly cheap. If money is an object in your quest for glassware, I do sincerely recommend the Svalka six pack from Ikea, a steal at just $4.99.
Located in the Bavarian village of Zwiesel, Schott Zwiesel can trace its glassmaking roots back to the late 19th century, and is today part of the Schott AG corporate family, a multinational German glass company that makes a broad range of glass products.
Schott Zwiesel glass is beautifully functional, sturdy yet delicate, and relatively affordable, with entry-level products from its Pure line starting at around $14. The Sensa and Vervino lines are a bit more architectural, with long stems and delicate bowls, with specified uses including Bordeaux and sauvignon blanc. The brand’s higher-end lines, including Highness and La Rose, top out at $200 per set of two.
But my favorite is the Tritan Burgundy, which actually falls on the lower end in terms of Schott Zwiesel pricing, around $60 for a pack of six. Tritan Burgundy’s deep, angular bowl is perfect for swirling, and made using a particular type of strengthened glass, which means it’s dishwasher safe and need not be stored away for very special occasions. The label might say “Burgundy,” but these are great for orange wine, which benefits from much swirling and sniffing, glowing like a luminous sea creature within the Tritan’s V-shaped aquarium. This was the first wine glass that made me say, “Damn” — so delicate and beautiful to drink from, it actually makes the wine taste better.
Gabriel-Glas One For All
A collection of glassware for specific wine styles can get rather expensive, and so for most of us, the idea of investing in one very nice wine glass that can be used across a panoply of bottles makes good sense. In this way, the Gabriel-Glas One For All is a great option for someone looking to get into high-end glassware, with universal application across a broad range of wine styles.
Gabriel-Glas is the invention of Swiss-German wine critic René Gabriel. The brand hails from Austria, and has positioned itself as a sort of antidote to the overly fussy world of high-end glassware by offering a standardized, eminently usable wine glass that cruises alongside any wine in the world. It does this by offering a wide bowl (for ample aromafication), a thin glass (a classy touch), and a long, graceful stem (so your grubby paws don’t warm the wine).
Gabriel-Glas One For All is not cheap — the entry level StandArt starts at $63 for a two-glass set, and the Gold Edition gift box is $148 for two. But these are classy workhorse glasses, capable of everyday use and as ideal for Monday night drinks over takeout as they are for a nice dinner party. They might be the only fancy glasses you really need.
Estelle Colored Glass
Now for something completely different: the elegant, jeweled world of Estelle Colored Glass. Founder Stephanie Hall has hit upon a truly remarkable expression of modern glassware, and the world is taking notice, thanks to a New York Times deep-dive earlier this year and spotlights from Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and Beyoncé.
Hall’s glassware is, in a word, stunning. Available both stemmed and stemless, the brand’s vivid colorways include cobalt blue, blush pink, mint green, and amethyst, and can be ordered as sets of two (for $75) or custom mix-and-match six packs ($190). While this style of glass might not be the best for a formal evaluation of wine (for which clear glass is preferred), it evokes the pleasure and whimsy so often missing from how Serious Wine Types approach wine drinking, opening up glassware’s range of possibilities. These glasses will hold your wine, yes, but they are also an interior designer’s dream, applying themselves readily to creatively vivid table settings and dining room mise en place. Personally, I am dreaming about making a batch of homemade tiramisu in Estelle’s stemless Amber Smoke line. The brand also offers a line of distinguished decanters, rocks glasses for cocktails, and the most beautiful cake stands I have ever seen.
Designed in Switzerland and mouth-blown in Slovakia, there is a certain buzz surrounding tiny cult brand Grassl Glass. This is as bespoke as glassmaking gets, hot-shaped and slow-cooled by hand, overseen by artisan glassmakers with decades of experience.
The glasses are sort of hard to purchase, which adds to the mystique: In lieu of a traditional webstore, one selects a product online and submits a request, after which the company puts you in touch with a distributor in your region. Along the way Grassl has become a trendy totem of Winestagram, showing up in tasting rooms, classy wine bars, and haute restaurants around the world. (Drinkers in the United States can order directly from Grassl’s exclusive U.S. distributor, CJF Selections.)
In early 2021 Grassl rolled out its Voyage and Voyage+ lines, which are travel cases for your fine glassware built to hold two or four glasses at a time. Grassl didn’t invent this format, long used by traveling wine salespeople, but it may have perfected it; there is perhaps no bigger flex in fine wine than to take a Grassl travel set on your next flight as a chic essential carry on. The Voyage sets start at $250 with two stems; a Champagne glass starts at $30, with the elegantly round Grassl Cru red wine glass going for $60.
To advertise the “world’s finest glasses” requires a blend of confidence, credibility, and perhaps a dash of hubris. But Josephinenhütte, a small-production bespoke glassmaker located in the Sudetes mountain region of central Europe, does exactly that. Drawing on a glassmaking tradition that dates back to the 1840s, the brand was revitalized in 2019 with a design assist by Kurt Josef Zalto, who left his family’s Zalto Glass Company in a hail of intrigue and considers Josephinenhütte the second act of his life’s work.
No other wine glass on earth looks quite like these. Zalto has designed the brand’s four stems — red, white, Champagne, and universal — with a singular ripple-like effect in the bowl, suggesting an ethereal wobble forged into the glass itself. This, according to Zalto, allows flavor and nuance to express themselves more quickly after the wine is poured, functioning almost like an all-in-one decanter and wine glass combination.
They are also gorgeous, with a very clear message to the drinker: This glass is special. As you might expect, they’re rather expensive, with single glasses starting at $68. I’m especially intrigued by Josephinenhütte’s approach to the Champagne glass, which sort of splits the difference between the flute vs. white wine approach, a topic of much conjecture in the wine world (in brief: the flute is traditional, and helps maintain bubbles, but can throttle a wine’s aromas; a white wine glass is seen by some as optimal because it allows for a greater appreciation of aroma, but can flatten out a sparkling wine’s texture). The Josephinenhütte Champagne glass appears to offer the best of both worlds, hybridizing the structure of a flute with the bowl of a white wine glass. Use this to drink your next stunner bottle of Grower Champagne.
Jordan Michelman is a 2020 James Beard Award winner for journalism and a 2020 Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards shortlist in the Emerging Wine Writer category.