Shopping for Place Settings: Wine Glass Advice for Beginners

I didn’t start drinking wine until I was in my thirties. I had universal wine glasses for red, white, rosé, whatever. Learning a bit more about wine over the next couple of years also meant learning about all the different types of glasses, which I found intimidating and overwhelming. There are so many! Which ones should I buy? What are the best brands of wine glasses? How many do I need? If you’re facing the same dilemma, try this beginner’s guide to wine glasses.


How Many Different Types of Wine Glass Do I Need?

For the average wine drinker and host, basic red and white wine glasses are perfectly fine. Even according to some connoisseurs, a two-glass system is the way to go. If you’re a novice in the wine drinking world, there’s no shame in starting with a single all-purpose wine glass for your place settings, a glass somewhere between a basic red and a basic white, appropriate for both. Start off simple, and if you develop a serious interest in wine, add on from there.


Think of it this way. If you suddenly found yourself wanting to draw, you would probably get a get sketch pad, and maybe a package of colored pencils. You wouldn’t rush off to an art supply, and buy a variety of the most expensive papers, inks, and charcoals, would you? Of course not. There would be a good chance you may never need them. It’s the same thing with wine glasses.



Red Wine Glasses vs. White Wine Glasses

So, what makes one kind of glass better than another for a specific type of wine? Basically, the idea is that the shape of the glass brings out the best qualities in the wine, maximizing the enjoyment of drinking it. You don’t have to know every single detail of wine glass design, but it does help to have a rudimentary understanding.


Red wine is served at or just below room temperature. Red wine glasses are fairly large overall and have large bowls. This allows the wine to breathe, which is important with robust and complex flavors like those of most reds. There’s a tapering of the sides toward the top to concentrate the aroma, or nose, of the wine.



White wine glasses have smaller bowls to preserve both the chilled temperature at which they are served and their more delicate aromas. A white wine glass is generally U-shaped but also tapers towards the top of the glass. The overall size of white wine glasses is smaller than that of reds, but the stem length relative to total size is longer. This helps keep the wine chilled when the glass is handled.



From these basic starting points, there are literally dozens of variations specific to certain types of wine — Chardonnay, Pino Noir, and Burgundy just to name a few. Each glass is designed with optimal wine drinking properties in mind, up to and including where on the tongue it should land for the best taste experience. Unless you become a connoisseur, these are glasses you don’t need to concern yourself with for home use. Don’t think that you can’t enjoy a glass of wine if you don’t have a very specific glass to go with it.


This even includes the flute, typically used for sparkling wines like champagne and prosecco. While the tall, narrow bowl of a flute visually highlights the rising bubbles of sparkling wine, it’s been argued that there isn’t enough surface area to allow the aroma to escape properly. So, if you’re drinking champagne out of a regular white wine glass, you aren’t a cretin. You may even be cutting edge.


Stemless wine glasses, or wine tumblers, are all the rage lately. They have a streamlined, contemporary look, and can be found both in all-purpose and wine specific styles. At formal dinner place settings, traditional, more elegant stemware with a smaller footprint is a probably a better choice. As far as practicality, keep in mind that holding a wine glass by the bowl affects the temperature of the wine, which is a downside of the stemless. On the upside, no stem means low profile storage and a glass that’s a lot less likely to break.  



Glass vs. Crystal Wineglasses

What is it that differentiates a good wine glass from a bad, or even mediocre wine glass? This is one thing that everyone seems to agree on. The thinner the glass of your glass, the better. A smooth, direct transition from the rim to your lips and then palate is the goal.


Crystal is the champion here. Basically, crystal is glass with a mineral content (often including lead) that reinforces durability, allowing it to be blown quite thin without sacrificing strength. On the downside, unless it’s lead-free crystal, it has to be hand washed, and the price tag of crystal is higher than standard glass.



Non-crystal glasses get their strength from thickness rather than content. This translates into an all-around heavier receptacle, and a thicker edge as you sip. On the other hand, they’re more affordable and easy to maintain, being dishwasher-safe. Which type of wine glass is going to work for you depends on your personal needs and priorities.


What are the Best Wine Glass Brands?

As with most table setting components, wine glasses are available at a wide variety of price points. At a mid-level price point, Fusion, Riedel and Zenology wine glasses are all excellent quality, priced between $15.00 and $30.00 per glass. At the high end, you can spend about $60.00 per glass for Zalto stemware, which is admittedly gorgeous, or $150.00 per glass for Schott Zwiesel, which is, in my opinion, absurd.  Better to spend that money on a Badash crystal decanter and a good bottle of wine or two!


Beautiful, affordable wine glasses from reliable brands like Libbey (between $3.00 and $10.00 per glass,) and Ravenscroft Invisible (between $9.00 and $12.00 per glass) are a good way to go for the budget minded. As a wine-drinking novice, I selected the Lenox Tuscany Classics, a set of white, and a set of red. They retail for just under $10.00 per glass when purchased in sets of six. I got mine at Macy’s with a 40% off coupon, so it was a pretty good deal for good crystal wine glasses.


If you’re not sure where to shop, Fusion, Riedel and Ravenscroft wine glasses are available at Bed Bath & Beyond, and the Libbey brand, including the award-winning Kentfield Estate all-purpose wine glass, can also be found there, as well as at Target. Both mid-range and high-end wine glasses can be found at department stores like Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, and Macy’s, or ordered directly from the manufacturer’s website.



How do Wine Glasses Fit into My Place Settings?

Unless you’re having a traditional formal dinner, it’s customary to place a single wine glass at each table setting, along with a water glass. Red wine is typically served with meat and heavy, spicy pasta entrees, while white is served with fish, poultry, and vegetable entrees. The appropriate glass should be at the upper right of the setting, next to the water glass. Stemware really is an elegant addition to the dinner table, and couldn’t be simpler than with a good set of universal wine glasses.



As far as the number of wine glasses you need, this depends on how often you entertain, as well as the number of wine drinkers in your home. Place settings can be a helpful guide. If you have service for eight in dishes and flatware, ten to twelve is a good number of universal wine glasses — eight for the settings, and some backups in case of breakage.


If you get red and white glasses, go for eight of each with eight place settings, or a full ten (or twelve) if your budget allows. Remember, wine glasses break more often than dishes. If you rarely entertain, bump down to a number that makes sense for your regular usage. And no matter how many wine glasses you buy, register them with the manufacturer if the option is offered. Any replacements will likely be discounted if you register.


Enjoying a good wine from a quality glass is truly one of life’s simplest pleasures. With the right glass and the right vintage, you can make any night a special one, and any dinner table a beautiful one. Cheers!


Images used with permission, courtesy of and

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