As if learning the vocabulary, geography, and producers in the wine world isn’t challenging enough, there are also different types of glassware—and figuring out the best wine glasses is no small feat. In the last couple of decades, glass manufacturers have made a killing off of creating dozens of glassware lines and convincing wine drinkers we need multiple types of glasses to be serious about wine. Although the glassware section of my book, Wine for Normal People, wound up on the cutting room floor, this is a topic my podcast listeners love to ask about and one I was excited to reexamine.
I guess we should start with the most important question: Does a glass really make a difference to a wine’s taste? After copious research and testing, I can tell you that glassware does matter to your enjoyment of wine. Certain glass shapes and materials do enhance wine’s aroma and flavor—and some even detract from it! I tested several highly regarded wine glasses and found the best premium, mid-tier, and affordable options for all kinds of wine drinkers.
Ahead, discover all the winners and a thorough breakdown of our testing methods. We’ve also included a primer on the merits of different liquor glass shapes.
Zalto is widely considered the gold standard of glassware by wine connoisseurs and professionals alike. It is made of mouth blown, nonleaded crystal; it’s incredibly light; and it’s shaped like a piece of art. It’s beyond fragile and using this glass is a bit unnerving, but in test after test with wine after wine, it not only allowed the wine to express itself, but in many cases it made the wine taste better than all the other glasses.
From white and red Burgundy to white and red Bordeaux, Italian white to California rosé, Chilean Pinot Noir to Spanish Rioja, the Zalto glass improved the naturally occurring aromas and flavors of each wine effortlessly. But to go a step further, the amazing thing about the Zalto is that it seems to elevate the wine’s subtleties and nuances, introducing new or stronger positive aromas and flavors that the other glasses don’t. For instance, you may get notes of an old medieval church incense and black pepper in a northern Rhône Syrah with the Zalto, but just an herbal note from other glasses (I know it’s crazy but it’s true).
The experience of swirling with Zalto is unlike any other—the lightweight construction and virtually spill-proof bowl (it tapers significantly) made for the most effortless spin, allowing for great aeration and giving it huge points for ease of use. The tapering at the top made every wine’s aromas shine so completely, to the point where the wines felt actually transformed and seemed to transcend themselves.
Although this is technically a Burgundy glass, I found that it improved a variety of wines almost universally. In a lineup of 10 glasses, even done blindfolded, this glass over-performed on experience, flavor, aroma, and comfort. Although the delicate quality of these glasses had me a bit stressed with each use and especially each (hand) wash, it wasn’t enough to deter me from grabbing it over every other glass, every night. It is, despite its fragility, the undisputed best wine glass you can get for your wine.
Because it is so expensive, we recommend just the Burgundy glass as the one you need, but if you have some extra change lying around and drink white wine, pick up those too.
Okay, so, it’s no Zalto, but the Riedel Veritas is half the cost and was a consistent runner-up in test after test. This glass is still fragile thanks to a spindly stem the company has become known for, but the leaded crystal has a slightly sturdier construction than the Zalto while still boasting a narrow rim that feels luxurious and comfortable for sipping.
The Pinot Noir glass did equally well with red Burgundy, Nebbiolo, Bordeaux and more tannic reds. Fuller whites were even slightly better in this one than in the Zalto. The white wine glass enhances the aromas of German Riesling, Italian whites like Fiano, and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.
The Veritas does exactly what a great glass should do: allow ample swirling room and enhance the wine’s natural characteristics for both the white glass and the red. The difference between this and the Zalto, for reds specifically, is that the Veritas doesn’t add the nuance and subtleties the Zalto does. It doesn’t improve the wine or allow the more intricate notes to come out. But what it lacks in whatever magic of the Zalto is, it makes up for in affordability and the fact that this glass is less nerve-racking to drink from. That said, Riedel claims these are dishwasher-safe, but unless you plan to make these stemless glasses (My take on that below!), the stem is imminently breakable. These have to be hand-washed.
This little glass (the company is owned by Riedel now, though it was once their biggest competition!) outperformed much more expensive glasses with its thin lip, excellent bowl for swirling, and ability to concentrate aromas. The red and white glasses are thin, but felt sturdy enough that I never worried about breaking them. They go into the dishwasher and come out in one piece. For the money, these glasses are the little engine that could. They came in third or fourth place in tasting every single wine—from Nebbiolo to Malbec, Chardonnay to Grüner Veltliner. This is an elegant everyday glass and it blows away its competitors (Schott-Zwiesel, Stozle, Libbey, and the more expensive Gabriel-Glas). I will warn that although the white glass is spectacular, it is quite small in comparison to the Burgundy glass. It works great, but it can be surprising when you open it, especially in comparison to the ample size of the brandy glass.