Most of us agree that a good glass makes a drink taste better. You can go overboard, though: some glassware companies (and drink snobs) insist on a different glass for every kind of cocktail, spirit, beer and wine. Listen to them describe the design of each glass, and you might think you’d accidentally wandered into a PhD class on structural physics. Let’s face it though: buying more than a hundred glasses isn’t just expensive, it’s impractical—to store and clean them, and even find room for them on the table for dinner or a party.
Besides, just as we’re bending traditional rules about matching food and drink nowadays, we’re also relaxing our approach to glassware—choosing what pleases us, and what’s practical. You really only need three basic glasses, for wine, beer and cocktails. Caterers know this well: they deal with a range of gatherings, and they’re experts in what works at a reasonable price and with realistic effort. We asked several to pick their favourite glasses in each category.
Tracey Black and Heather Maclachlan of Ottawa’s MacKay Street Epicuria use highball glasses for most mixed drinks, spirits straight up or on the rocks, long drinks, water, punch, pop and juice. Unless they’re catering for a martini-based cocktail party, or there’s a special request for them, they don’t use martini glasses.
They serve beer in a stemmed, tapered beer glass: it’s easy to hold while balancing hors d’oeuvres in the other hand. For wine, they prefer an eight-ounce glass with a simple curved bulb for both reds and whites. (When catering for wine tastings, though, they use different glasses for reds and whites.) The two believe that larger glasses are more practical: they don’t have to be refilled constantly, and there’s room to leave a space at the top—which minimizes the risk of sloshing wine onto clothes or the carpet. As well, the larger wine glass allows guests to swirl the wine and appreciate its aromas.
Susan Bowman of All the Best Fine Foods in Toronto uses a 10 ½ ounce glass for beer, soft drinks and water. She says she chooses glasses that don’t have cut or coloured glass as they’re more versatile: they work with various place settings and don’t obscure the colour of the drink. Bowman favours a flute glass for festive get-togethers: champagne, sparkling wines and many specialty cocktails look elegant in this glass. Plus, she says, the flute is a well-balanced glass that’s easy to hold while standing or sitting.
For wine, she likes to use an 8 ½-ounce tulip-shaped glasses. She prefers ones that are durable—that don’t break easily, and that fit easily into a standard dishwasher. This means a sturdy stem rather than a thin and delicate one, and a medium height rather than tall. It also means that they should be made of glass rather than crystal, which scratches easily and must be hand-washed.
Ann Dunkley from Toronto’s The Moveable Feast uses glassware that has elegant stems and modern designs which work well for dressy cocktail parties. She likes the high ball and double old fashioned glasses: they accommodate just about any cocktail, as well as beer and water. She uses a nine-ounce tulip glass for still wine, but prefers the traditional flute for champagnes and sparkling wines: these wines go flat too quickly in a regular glass.
Dunkley recommends stocking three to five glasses per person. In her experience, some guests will invariably set their empty glass down and forget it; some will switch from one type of drink to another; and some just prefer a clean glass for their next drink. It’s not only faster to have clean glasses ready, she says, but it’s also cheaper: it costs less to rent extras rather than pay someone to wash them during the event.
There’s a wide range of wine glassware available; so if you want to add to your basic collection, start by buying different glasses for red and white wines. Simplicity is still the guiding principle, though: choose one glass with a narrow bowl that can accommodate most styles of white wine—most often this is the glass for Sauvignon Blanc, but most Chardonnays, Rieslings and other popular white wines will drink well from this glass.
For reds, choose a glass with wider bowl to accommodate the robust aromas of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Zinfandel. You may also want to get some small dessert wine glasses for Ice Wine, Late Harvest Wine, Port, Sherry and even liqueurs, brandy and cognac.
These extra glasses need not break the bank: many glassware companies—Riedel, Baccarat and Waterford—sell several lines at different price points. Often their value line can even go in the dishwasher. The only thing now is for them to create a glass that makes oxidized wine taste fresh again.
MacKay Street Epicuria, Ottawa: 613-745-7356
All the Best Fine Foods, Toronto: 416-928-0569
Moveable Feast, Toronto: 416-969-8962
LCBO Stores across Ontario
Wine Establishment, Toronto: 416-861-1331
C.A. Paradis, Ottawa: 613-731-2866
Blasted Bottles, Ottawa: 613-761-5999