reach for the stems

I’ve written about wine glasses, and I’ve written about serving wine at the proper temperature. Let’s bring those two together and discuss how to handle the hardware.

Have you ever wondered why wine glasses have stems? I suppose I should clarify by saying “most” wine glasses, as some glass makers have been selling contemporary-styled stemless glasses for a few years now. But in general, when dining out, we expect that our wine will be served in a bowl set atop a stem firmly planted on a base etched with a stout German name like Riedel or Spiegelau (ok, Riedel is in Austria, but the name is still German…).

And after all that work and German engineering, most casual drinkers grab the bowl and gulp away. I see two problems with that – one is aesthetic, and the other is functional (i.e., one is tied to my anal-retentive nature, the other actually means something).

First, consider the time your server, or the sommelier, has put into polishing the glass. Not only has someone prepared the glass prior to setting on the floor (not the actual floor, but the area where guests dine) or at the bar, but it often gets a once-over prior to being filled. The guest’s insistence on placing his or her fingers, dripping with roux or béarnaise, all over the bowl is a slap in the face to those who have worked to present a spotless utensil. And honestly, do you really want to look at that carefully-selected pairing to a nice meal through a butter-crusted thumbprint?

do this

But beyond the mere courtesy, there is the effect your hand imparts on the glass’ contents. As you read this, your body is radiating heat derived from your internal, upper-90s temperature. When you grasp the bowl of wine, nothing but a millimeter or two of mouth-blown glass separates your radiating fingers from the wine that is almost 40 degrees cooler (or should be, anyway). When we consider the importance of consuming wine at the right temperature, it seems like such a shame to hasten any change by holding the glass like we’re kicking back with a glass of Richard Hennessy.

not that

Now, I have used this effect to my benefit, such as when warming a white wine that someone has poured for me from a bottle on ice. But such behavior should be adaptive and not the norm. Let’s grab what the Germans (or Austrians) gave us and enjoy wine as it was meant to be consumed.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “reach for the stems

  1. Felix Rafail

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