The Wine Glass Through the Ages

A crystal wine glass exudes elegance. Its shapely appearance from foot to stem to bowl invites a person to enjoy a fine wine. However, it wasn’t always this way. The story of the rise of wine glasses spans millenniums.

Glass creation started about 3500 BC in Mesopotamia but wine is even older, going back to 6000 BC. So after the arrival of both, you’d think that wine glasses were the next logical step. But it wasn’t love at first sight.

Although in Ancient Rome Pliny the Elder identified glass as the best container to drink wine out of, up until the Industrial Revolution people normally consumed wine from clay cups. As Leigh Hill of notes, glass was “so hard to make and so time consuming that it was as precious as gold and silver.” In Europe, during the Middle Ages much of the quality wine glasses came from Venice. Venetians had brought back advanced glass blowing techniques from the East. With the Renaissance, the craft spread as many emigrated north, ending up in forested areas such as Bohemia. This particularly attracted glass makers because they needed a lot of firewood to heat the glass. One such family business that arose through the flourishing of glass makers in Bohemia was Riesdel, a name now synonymous with exquisite stemware. But by no means was glass available to the vast majority of the wine-drinking populace.

Only with the Industrial Revolution and mass production did wine move from clay pottery, animal horns, leather gourds, cups of silver, copper or gold, and goblets of varying materials to glass. The shape also developed over time. Goblets with base, stem and foot did not appear until the 15th century. Wine glasses before the Industrial Revolution were adorned with engravings. By 1740, a wine glass appeared that looked much like the one we use today.

Now, glass or lead crystal (its close relative) are the dominant and preferred way to consume wine. So what was Pliny the Elder talking about when he claimed glass was better? Glass is superior to other materials for multiple reasons. It is aesthetically pleasing as light reaches and goes through the wine. It also makes the wine smell better than other materials for the following reasons. Unlike other materials which taint the smell of the wine, glass is odorless. Also it can be shaped in way to let the nose to best appreciate the bouquet (wine scent). Along with that, a wine glass allows a wine that needs to be aerated to receive the necessary exposure to the surrounding air, which for the right wine will improve the taste. Undoubtedly, we are fortunate to have access to wine glasses that bring out the best in wine.