Does Glassware Make a Difference?
Any business advisor or strategy consultant will tell you that the value proposition of any retail purchase is a key driver of consumer behaviour. It’s “Business 101”, yet I’m constantly surprised by the inability of glassware manufacturers to sell the value of higher end drinking tools to consumers. After all, how often do we see expensive wines served in cheap and ill-suited glassware in restaurants, cafes, and in our own homes? If a good piece of crystal glassware can improve the wine drinking experience by 20-30%, why don’t many (or most) consumers see their investment in crystal receptacles as a worthy one?
If a piece of glassware has a life expectancy of, say, only 100 uses prior to its demise (and I concede that when my friend Brad Thompson visits, any glassware in his vicinity has a severely reduced life expectancy!) then a $10.00 glass costs only 10 cents per use over its lifetime. On the other hand, a more expensive and finely crafted piece with a price tag of $50.00, has an average cost per use of $0.50. But let’s put that in perspective. If we get five decent size pours out of a bottle of wine, then a $10.00 bottle costs $2.00 per glass. To serve that wine in the expensive $50.00 glassware would, in this example, add 50 cents to its cost, giving it a total real cost of $2.50. So, in analysing the value proposition, we’d need to ask whether the expensive glassware improved the experience by at least 20% (being 50 cents out of a $2.50 cost) to be a worthy investment.
But if we apply the same logic to a more expensive, say $100.00 bottle of wine, then the $0.50 cost per use of the glassware gives a unit cost for a glass of wine of $20.50. That means that in order to be good value, the higher quality glass would only need to improve the experience by a bit over 2.4% to meet the value proposition test. To me, it’s a no-brainer! Maybe this approach is a bit overly analytical for what can be a “necessity” purchase but, leaving aside the romance and aesthetics of using fancy glassware, if you’re not serving Chateau-de-Cardboard or Two-Buck-Chuck, there’s no doubt that investing in better quality glassware is a prudent approach.
So why the different shapes and styles of glassware? Well, different wines have vastly different characteristics and varying the shape of the bowl can dramatically improve the attractiveness of the wine by enhancing its most appealing attributes. For example, exposing wine to air through aeration, either by decanting or simply swirling in the glass, can trigger oxidation and evaporation. Those nasty compounds like sulfites that you sometimes find in some red wines which can initially smell like rotten egg gas or onion skin will largely disappear over a short time after exposure to air. Similarly, a volatile compound like ethanol which can taint a wine’s nose will fall away after aeration. As a result, a glass with a large bowl will reduce the effect of nasty compounds but allow our noses to appreciate the pleasant aromas that reflect a wine’s varietal or terroir.
Although different manufacturers will use variations to the styles, generally speaking:
- Bordeaux glasses will have a broad bowl and long stem and are designed to facilitate aeration and allow the wines’ aromas to stimulate the nasal senses
- Burgundy glasses also have a large but wider bowl so you can really get your nose in and allow the wines’ aromas to escape
- Shiraz glasses have an inward tapered but a higher bowl to direct the wine to the centre of your palate and to help highlight the fruit characters yet balance the tannin and acidity
- Chardonnay glasses have a wider bowl with a mild taper at the top to allow swirling of the wine and to enable the fruit characters and aromas to be fully appreciated
- Riesling glasses, however, are taller and narrower to keep the fruit and aroma at the top and allow the acidity or minerality to appear at the back end to facilitate a crispness to the conclusion
I appreciate that there is a lot of spin in the marketing world and that sometimes the hype isn’t matched by reality, but when it comes to glassware, I reckon that buying quality over quantity is a no-brainer.
And my drinking implement of choice? Riedel, of course. They’re Austrian made and at anywhere from $30.00 to $60.00 a glass, they’re not cheap but if you can keep them away from clumsy friends like Brad Thompson, you’ll get an exceptional return on your investment.