While there are some genuine technical aspects to consider when pairing stemware and wines, the fetishization of matching glass and fermented grape must is driven primarily by glaziers. They need, after all, to sell you more glasses.
In regard to stemware shapes historically paired with regional wines, the match is more often than not determined by one simple variable: local tradition. Whether the slightly flared balloons of Langa or the broader vessels of Burgundy, the different shapes perform the exact same functions (aeration and heat diffusion). But their shapes are different because the people who make the wines “have always done it that way” and “as long as anyone can remember.”
Like most 21-century wine professionals in the U.S., we use a classic Bordeaux glass for nearly all the wines we serve at our house — red, white, and sparkling — with one notable exception: Lambrusco. When it comes to the many wonderful sparkling reds and rosés from Emilia that we love to pour, the “stem” has to be a classic tumbler like the one in the image above. It’s what we call a “glass of the world” in our family lexicon because it’s the type of drinking vessel that you find in taverns and public houses across the globe.
In Emilia, where the locals drink Lambrusco ubiquitously and nearly exclusively (don’t ever try to bring them Brunello as I once foolishly did), the tumbler is the hands down glass of choice.
Is there a technical motivation behind this tasting? No, not as far as I can ascertain. Lambrusco tastes just as good in our tumblrs as it does in our Bordeaux stems. (But please, please, please: never serve Lambrusco in a flute. And on second thought, never serve ANY wine in a flute. But that’s another story for another day.)
In my view, the glass choice for Lambrusco is an aesthetic and ideological one. Low in alcohol and (ideally) with bright fruit and gentle fizziness, Lambrusco is meant to be a crowd pleaser for everyone to enjoy at the table. And so it only makes sense for it to be served in a “glass of the world,” a nod to its demotic nature.
No matter what wine you are pouring tonight, remember: if you can’t be with the glass you love, love the glass you’re with. One of the greatest wine experiences I’ve ever had was sharing Bollinger Special Cuvée Champagne with Tracie backstage at one of my band’s show at the Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side when we were first dating. We poured it in clear plastic cups, the only option available (below). So go figure!
Oh and by the way, the Lambrusco in the glass last night was paired with nachos topped with refried beans and freshly sliced jalapeños. It one of the most satisfying pairings I’ve had this month. For real.
If you’re joining me tonight for our virtual wine dinner with Alessandro Medici of Lambrusco great Medici Ermete, be sure to use your tumblers instead of traditional wine glasses. And you’ll see what I’m talking about.