The modern day wine glass
Wine glasses are nearly as old as wine itself. Wine as we know it was invented back in modern-day Georgia around 6000 BC, with the first winery in Armenia during 4000 BC. Very little is know about how these wines were consumed, however, most agree that it is probably from a clay goblet. Fast-forward to the Roman Empire and this is when the development of wine and wineries really kicked off. The wines drank back in the Roman times were sweeter in style and included seawater, spices, honey, herbs, and boiled grape must, finally they tended to be quite high in alcohol(15-20%).
The wine produced back then was drunk by both the rich and poor, with the rich having access to a wine that was more concentrated, and the poorer having a watered-down version. Wines were still drunk from a variety of cups, however, probably a clay cup similar to this on the left was used (These are known as earthenware mugs) The Romans also developed silver and lead goblets. As a fun fact, the Romans typically drank 1-2 L per day, rumors are, that during famous battles this used to increase to 3 L per day!
Thin stem was introduced during 500 AD in Europe, these stems were joined with cups that were used by the upper class, whilst the middle-lower class continued to use the pottery goblets. A leather cup (Piggin) was introduced in the middle ages, in a similar style to the one below
First Modern-day wine glass
Fast-forward to the 1400s and it was around Venice where the first modern-day wine glass was probably invented. This wine glass was in a similar style to that 900 years prior, yet with modern-day enhancements. Instead of clay, the first 'wine glass' was made using a purified source of alkaline which was used to create 'Cristallo', a clear style of glass. The only challenge with this style of glass was that it became unstable when was exposed to air. I know! The glass was susceptible to cracks, which caused the glass to break over a very short period of time. Not really a great success.
Then comes along the British in the 1600s; with the addition of lead oxide and flint, the wine glasses were more sturdy, along with being more elegant and attractive. These wine glasses looked almost crystal in style due to the lead oxide, which made the wine glasses sparkle. These glasses were much smaller than the wine glasses today and looked more like shot glasses than real wine glasses. The below provides a small idea of the first modern-day stable wine glass.
Early Champagne Wine Glass
So, the rumor that Champagne wine glasses were modeled on the breast of Marie Antoinette, is false! Sorry, but this style of glass was actually created in the mid-1600s and used by aristocrats to drink cocktails and sparkling wines. Marie Antoinette was born in 1755, so this wine glass was designed nearly 100 years before she was born. These wine glasses might look fancy, but they are far from practical. Sparkling wine or Champagne quickly lost its fizz and went flat.
Champagne glasses have evolved immensely. The long flute styles might be the preferred choice among most, however, I for one prefer a glass that allows the wine to both breathe as well as keep its bubbles. The Riedel Performance Champagne Glass does just this, and is currently my go-to Champagne Glass:
The evolution of red and white wine glasses
It is not just Champagne glasses that have evolved, red and white wine glasses have also improved. Long is the time when you would own just two glasses; one for white wine and one for red wine.
Riedel is seen as the benchmark of modern-day wine glasses and has nearly 100 different wine glasses which showcase most varietals and styles from a Dolcetto to a Corton-Charlemagne. I will do a separate post to provide an insight into which glasses I recommend for each varietal and style. However, I have just posted my 'Top 5 Red Wine Glasses' to get you started on your wine glass journey.
The modern-day wine drinker
With so many options, it can be quite overwhelming (and expensive!) to decide which wine glasses to buy. I believe most will fit into one of the following categories when buying wine glasses.
1) The Casual Collector - Someone who enjoys wine once a week. Is looking to buy one or two sets of wine glasses to satisfy a range of different styles for entry-level wines.
2) The Amateur Collector - Someone who enjoys wine several times a week from light whites to full-bodied reds. No more than 4 sets of wine glasses to cover a range of different styles.
3) The Sommelier Collector - Someone who drinks a variety of wines from Albariño to Zweigelt. A Sommelier would either be looking for a few different premium universal wine glasses, or a variety of style/varietal-specific sets of wine glasses.
4) The Professional Collector- The top of the top, who does not need every wine glass ever made, however, requires a large selection of wine glasses which will cover both entry-level, light-bodied whites to Bordeaux first growths.
Stay tuned as I dive into each of these groups, to provide you an overview of which wine glasses I recommend based on your specific category. Which collector are you?