While I tend to be the type to pour myself a glass of wine in whatever clean vessel I have lying around, whether it be a Mason jar, a drinking glass, or even a mug, I must admit that everyone should have a set of proper, stemmed glasses on hand. For one, they feel nice to drink out of. For another, they actually make the wine taste like it’s supposed to.
Technically, proper wineglasses have a bell-shaped bowl that allows wine to oxidize or interact with air. This process actually starts the moment you open up your bottle; you’re just helping it along when you pour the wine into a decanter or glass. Sounds like science, which it is, but all you need to know is that oxidation changes a wine’s aroma and taste — in a good, “this is supposed to happen” kind of way. If you’ve ever taken a sip of a funky-tasting wine, waited a bit, and then tried it again to better success, you know what I’m talking about. Stemmed wineglasses also mean you don’t need to grasp the bowl itself and risk warming up your drink.
Classifications can get really nitty-gritty for those who care (we’re talking ultraspecialized designs for specific varietals). But for the average person (even the average wine-loving person), a universal glass — one that is stemmed and of medium size – will do the trick. “It’s nice to be able to smell the wine as you’re drinking,” says Chris Leon, owner and wine director of Leon & Son in Brooklyn. “But ultimately, when you’re talking about cracking open a bottle on a Tuesday night, you don’t need to be precious.”
With that in mind, I asked Leon and nine other sommeliers and beverage directors to share their favorite wineglasses, whether you’re looking for a durable set or a couple of splurge-worthy standouts to add to your glassware collection.
What we’re looking for
Shape: While universal wineglasses typically are designed with a traditional bell shape, there can be some small differences among them. For example, a slightly more narrow bell shape is better if you tend to reach for white wines, while those with a wider, decanter-esque shape are better for reds. We’ve noted the difference (and what they mean) below.
Set number: Choosing the right number of glasses will depend on your budget and entertaining needs. A set of two is great for just you and your partner, whereas wineglasses sold in singles are ideal if you’re the type who likes to sip a glass of wine solo in the bathtub. And if you find yourself often playing host, there are also sets of four or more below.
Dishwasher-safe versus handwash only: Due to the delicate nature of the crystal and the shape of the glasses, many brands recommend handwashing to prevent shattering and cloudiness. However, we did source a few options that are designed to hold up to the dishwasher (if you’re lucky enough to have one in your apartment).
Best overall universal wineglass
Traditional bell-shape | Set of 1 | Handwash only
Zalto, for the most part, makes the most beloved wineglasses in the industry. Several of the experts we consulted spoke about other brands — even ones they fully endorse — in relation to the “the Olympic gymnasts of wineglasses,” as wine columnist Marissa A. Ross once referred to Zalto. Indeed, these wineglasses are top of the line, which is why just one will cost you more than $60. “It’s extremely elegant, lightweight, and thin,” says Thomas Pastuszak, wine director at NoMad and founder of VINNY Wines. “All of that amounts to you experiencing the wine itself more than the physical glass as you smell and drink, and it works for every style of wine out there,” he says, adding that if he had to pick just one glass to enjoy every single wine in my world, this would be it.” Jill Bernheimer, owner of Domaine in Los Angeles, calls it her “ideal” glass, and Leon is a big fan, too. While the most common criticism is that the thinness (which is “almost disarming at first,” he says) means it’s easily broken, he also says he and his wife put theirs in the dishwasher without a problem. “We’ve cracked ours from sheer excitement of clinking the glasses too hard,” he says, “but never from cleaning them.” However, the brand does recommend handwashing only.
[Editor’s note: Zalto’s Universal Wine Glasses are currently sold out most places, though Canada-based Atkinson’s of Vancouver has them in stock for $79. Just know they’re special order, so it will take 6-9 months to deliver.]