It’s interesting to see that the recent dramatic changes in fashion in wine styles have been just as marked in wine glass preferences. Reidel glasses, a host of them specific to particular wine types, were all the rage in the late 20th century. The next glass to sweep us wine lovers off our feet was the mouth-blown Zalto (German wine writer Stuart Pigott introduced me to them in 2010). This particularly angular design that comes in several different versions of which the Universal is the most popular introduced us wine lovers to the sensation of drinking wine from a gossamer-thin glass. I loved it. The rim was so fine, the glass so thin and on the whole so light that it seemed to elevate the experience of drinking wine. I was happy with my Zalto Universals, especially since they were expressly sold as dishwasher-proof, although their stems in particular did seem rather fragile and I broke more of them than I would have liked. So my stock was running a bit low when in July 2017 I was approached by a young designer.
Richard Brendon had made a name for himelf by resurrecting and re-energising the bone china business for which Stoke-on-Trent was famous. He then moved into equally beautiful whisky glasses and now, he said, he wanted to design wine glasses, but he realised he needed expert help. ‘Function-led’ is how he described wine glass design.
As a result he turned up on my doorstep suggesting we collaborate on a range of glasses. When I explained that I wanted to design a single glass for all wines – whatever their colour, strength or fizziness – he took it on the chin. Throughout my career I have been on the side of pragmatism. While I admire the Riedel philosophy, and the family’s massive commercial success, I just don’t think it is always practical in modern households to keep a battery of different glasses. And, as someone who in the past used to be sent lone examples of various new Riedel glasses, I don’t know how anyone whose surname isn’t Riedel manages to identify them all. The restaurant Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence is said to have the world’s most extensive collection of Riedel glasses. They must have enviable storage space.
I had never understood the convention of having a smaller glass for white wine than red. The aroma of many whites needs just as much coaxing out of the glass as that of reds – and I for one certainly don’t want to drink any less of a white wine than a red. Furthermore, over the past few years, I have become increasingly aware that the Champagne producers I admire, the likes of Richard Geoffroy, Olivier Krug and Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, want their wines to be appreciated not in tall, narrow flûtes which can be difficult to ‘nose’, but in regular wine glasses which show every nuance to advantage. The same is true of fortified wines. Jesús Barquín, the genius behind Equipo Navazos sherries, has insisted on wine glasses for his wines for years. (A schooner is an insult, and even a copita is too narrow in my view.) Fellow Master of Wine and editor of Drinks Business Patrick Schmitt told me how he had persuaded his parents to drink their Port from a regular wine glass and how amazed they had been. “It has so much more flavour,” they marvelled.
So, my wine glass is as thin as a Zalto and, of course, mouth-blown by craftsmen – who had to be taught how to achieve this level of delicacy. But the stem is deliberately left reasonably sturdy and the glass is not too tall to fit into most dishwashers easily. Nick and I have been putting prototypes of my wine glass into the dishwasher on a daily basis since last December and have yet to experience any breakages.
I sketched my ideal shape – a giant, bloated tulip, you might say, a bit more classical than a Zalto – allowing maximum surface area with a fill of 125ml, a sixth of a bottle, a generous but not over-generous pour. (I’m waging a low-key campaign against the 175ml pour that has become all too common in bars and restaurants in the UK, but that is another story.) Richard then refined the design over several prototypes that I selflessly tested with all sorts of wines until we came up with the versatile, flattering beauty that is the final result.
There’s a stemless version that is designed as a water glass but would satisfy those who like stemless wine glasses. And then we have come up with two decanters whose design perfectly reflects the shape of the wine glass. The tall, narrow decanter, with artful glass stopper, is for mature wine that may be too delicate to expose to much air. I just pour the wine off the sediment and then, on the basis of a little taste, decide whether to put the stopper in or not. This old wine decanter works well as a water carafe too. The young wine decanter is my favourite for aerating tight, youthful wines. There’s something about swooshing the wine around while holding it by the neck that is peculiarly satisfying. Needless to say, both decanters are aimed at both red and white wines – many a white Burgundy needs aeration – and the young wine decanter works just as well for magnums.
Now that we have done all the preparatory work, I must say I am hugely enjoying tasting and drinking wine from my glass. I have yet to find a wine that is uncomfortable in this shape, designed to accommodate the biggest of noses and, by height of the stem, the biggest of hands. And the fact that the glass is so light and thin offers pure delight to a wine lover like me.
So, like every single one of the new steps my career has taken, my new glassware, the Jancis Robinson Collection, is a response to an external stimulus.
Harrods had an initial exclusivity as a UK retailer until the end of September 2018 but the range has always been available from richardbrendon.com and we are busy setting up a global network of distributors.
I do hope you get the chance to test them.
Find out more at jancisrobinson.com