If you don’t know much about wine and wine glasses, you might be tempted to just get a a couple of different types, use one for the whites and one for the reds and call it a day. And you might be able to get away with this if you just have a beer pub or if you specialize in martini mixed drinks. However, if you are going to have a full service bar or an upscale establishment that wants to serve the wine crowd, you are going to have to bone up on the different kinds of glasses. Just as the hop heads who love beer as if it were their own life blood can talk for hours about the brewing process, so too can those interested in viticulture go on and on about the fermentation process. In fact, wine enthusiasts are notorious for their pickiness about every aspect of wine culture from cask to bottle to glass.
So here is what you will need to know if you want to get your wine service right.
Wine Glasses: The Basics
If you just have a pub and want to have a couple of types of bottles of wine on hand for those that aren’t into beer, here is the very bottom level thing that you need know, because even the most casual of drinkers know it: the difference between white and red glasses.
White Wine Glasses: White wine glasses are narrower and taller than red wine glasses, and also, generally sturdier because the stem tends to flare as it reaches the bowl creating extra durability.
Red Wine Glasses: The red wine glass is shorter than the white, with a wider, more bulbous bowl. The stem usually does not flair making for a more fragile glass generally.
For most establishments that don’t feature wine as the central part of their bar experience having these two types of wine glasses will do.
Tip from the Pros: If you don’t want to deal with two different kinds of wine glasses and the accompanying problems that they bring to an establishment, you might think of Bordeaux glasses. Bordeaux glasses, taller than red but wider than white, are acceptable to wine enthusiasts as an all-purpose type of glass. You should know, however, that in wine bars they are generally used for full-bodied reds like a Syrah.
Wine Glass Etiquette: Mid-Level
Beyond the basics of the difference between the red and the white wine glass, you should probably know a few of the other types of glasses that most customers will expect for certain types of wines:
Clear Wine Glasses: Wine glasses should always be clear. This is so that the taster can not only taste and smell the wine, but so they can see its color, an indicator of the wine’s age. (The older the wine, the more faded, generally.)
Champagne Flutes: The long thin “bowl” of the champagne flute is a must if you are going to serve champagne or any other kinds of fizzy sparkling wines that depend on being bubbly for their effects. The narrow bowl helps keep sparkling wines from going flat too quickly. Using any other kind of glass is not quite like serving a margarita in a beer mug,—customers will probably not revolt if you used a tulip shaped white wine glass for a sparkling wine, for example–but the flute is the expectation.
Stemless Wine Glasses: If you hate stemware because of the storage and cleaning problems, you might be able to get away with stemless wine glasses, which basically look like your regular red and white glasses if someone had chopped off the stems and made them slightly more stable. If you have a sort of cutting edge kind of place with a young clientele, you might be able to pass the rarely used stemless wine glass off as being the latest thing in viticulture, but the look is rather unpleasant and wine enthusiasts, with their well trained noses, will frown upon it if they sniff out laziness behind the choice.
Plastic Wine Glasses: If you are just bringing out the champagne for a New Years party, plastic champagne flutes will be forgiven. If you want to have regular wine lovers coming to your place, however, plastic wine glasses are the kiss of death. I am understating things, by the way.
Cool Bar/Club Idea—the Anti-Etiquette Wine Bar: Of course, the wine lovers can get so uptight about how things should be done, that there is definitely a market for the anti-wine lover bar. My grandfather, who always smelled faintly of his favorite Port, used to drink his wine out of these little recycled jelly jars. I used to think this just an odd affectation—my grandfather was a bit on the eccentric side—but some years ago traveling in northwestern Brazil, I came across a Italian place where all the wines were served in similar recycled jelly jars with the Italian Jelly company’s label still embalmed on the side. The rustic effect was perfect for this out of the way watering hole. (It turned out the tradition started during the War in this section of Italy when wine glasses were in short supply due to Allied bombing raids of the factories.)
Given how uptight wine lovers are about etiquette, a cutting edge bar could totally bring in an artsy bohemian crowd by intentionally thumbing their nose at wine culture and serving wine in non-traditional glasses—let your imagination run wild!
Wine Glasses: The Advanced Course
If you are going to open a wine bar or have an establishment that caters directly to the high demand wine crowd, you will need to diversify your stemware even further. Wine enthusiasts, unlike the rest of us, know the difference between the slightly wider bowl of the Port glass and the Burgundy glass, and they very strongly believe that it matters to the overall experience because of the way a wider bowl captures the fuller tastes and smells.
In addition, you will also need to know the proper pouring technique—that you only pour wine to the widest point in the glass, not to near the top—and what that means for inventory, etc. It is beyond the scope of this introduction to go into all the ins and outs of every kind of wine glass (there are a good dozen) but let it simply be said that if you really want to do wine for wine lovers—start studying, because there are entire university departments devoted solely to viticulture.
Storage and Cleaning
One of the main reasons so many bar and restaurant owners hate stemware is because of the particular problems that it raises for storage and cleaning. The stems on wine glasses make them harder to stack and easier to break. This is why hanging them from an overhead rack is such a popular choice for most establishments. The overhead rack makes the most sense in terms of space and decreases the chances of breakage. In addition, as those picky wine lovers will tell you, upside down storage is also the best way to dry wine glasses and avoid stains.
Restaurant Grade Wine Glasses: Unless you have a high end wine bar that plays strictly by the book, where each and every glass is carefully cleaned by hand with nothing more than a cloth and hot water, than you will definitely want to get restaurant grade wine glasses. These sturdier wine glasses are made to last longer than the average wine glass that you will find at home. You can get these from restaurants suppliers in your area or by doing a simple Google search on “Restaurant Grade Wine Glasses.” I would recommend that you price them on the internet anyway, as first step to getting a sense of cost.
Just getting regular wine glasses like those you find at home will lead to far more breakages both during regular use (remember that your bar glasses get used a lot more than the home variety are meant to be used) and during the cleaning process.
Cleaning wine glasses is also a problem. You will need special racks for your wine glasses so that they will not break. If you use very unusual wine glasses there is not always a perfect fit, which adds to the time it takes to clean since separate racks means separate washes. All these things need to be carefully considered when buying stemware. Which is yet another reason why sticking to the basics of simply having one type of red wine glass and one type of white is so much easier.
Crystal Wine Glasses: Crystal wine glasses should be avoided unless you are a really high end establishment. Crystal wine glasses are a headache for restaurant owners. They are, first of all, fragile, breaking when someone does an overly enthusiastic toast, or when they clank in the dish washer (most should only be hand cleaned). Cleaning is also a hassle, since crystal has tiny nooks and crannies where little reserves of wine get trapped causing the glasses to develop a misty blush that makes them look dirty to customers. Put simply, crystal is not worth the trouble unless you are catering to the super, super rich and are willing to go through the headaches.
Of course, there is much more to learn about wine and wine glasses. As I mentioned, you can literally get a PhD in viticulture. Armed with the knowledge here, however, it should give you enough of a sense of how to get things started.
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