“When I was young, my parents had lots of parties and I was often in charge of the bar and making the drinks,” says London-based international designer Lee Broom, adding, “This is something that I still love doing today when I host my own parties.”
And central for Broom is the drinking vessel: few objects evoke the conviviality of a social gathering as the glistening — and clinking — of a well-designed wine glass. The right glass, along with good wine and company, can create a memory-making experience.
For the designer, it is crystal’s shimmery, delicate elegance that does it, and which inspired the look and feel of his “Half Cut” Champagne coupes. Broom’s designs are gorgeous and collectible, driven by creating a certain ambience. The collection repurposes four styles of crystal decanter stoppers as the base of the glass, and can be mixed or matched.
“The nostalgic feel is a throwback to another era,” he says. “I like to create a piece that not only looks beautiful, but that has a good weight, sits in your hand well, and feels right when it touches your lips.”
The market for stemware is changing, as younger wine drinkers eschew varietally driven stems — once a must for any home — in favor of glasses that fit their lifestyles or décor. And with a wider move towards conscious consumption, more people are scouring flea markets and online stores, eBay and Etsy, for unique pre-owned and vintage pieces to express their philosophies and personal styles. Today you’re likely to see humble vessels such as tumblers, canning jars, or metal picnicware for “Tuesday night drinking,” while the higher-quality glassware is brought out for occasions when the wine itself is the star.
For some oenophiles like Blake Gilbert, Maze Row’s senior business development manager, that issue is easily resolved with a universal glass, a shape that accommodates multi styles. Gilbert says he often opts for Riedel’s version, but Zalto — another Austrian entrant in the high-end market — is a second choice. Famed for the thinness of its stemmed glasses, the Zalto is often found in elegant tasting rooms.
John Irwin agrees. “If you go to a tasting room in Champagne, they will pour into Zalto white wine glasses,” says the Italian wine ambassador with Vinitaly International and Maze Row specialist. “I remember touching one for the first time and being shocked by the delicacy.” As a category, luxury wine glasses are in “rude health,” he remarks, with new brands entering the field all the time and finding an enthusiastic audience. Meanwhile, the likes of Broom cater to those for whom style is as important as functionality.
But for casual entertainment, many are ditching the stems for dishwasher-safe glasses that can transition from aperitif to dinner. The trend takes its cues from the Paris café culture and popular natural-wine bars that have democratized the wine scene, making wine more accessible to a greater diversity of drinkers. And, in some cases, a more relaxed approach helps put wines in context. But Irwin advises keeping that in mind when choosing glassware. “To break out your best stems for a simple Vinho Verde on the patio can feel as out-of-place as pouring cru Barolo in a tumbler,” he says.