The question: We have been using tall Bordeaux glasses for most of our red wines. Recently our friend served us wine in stemless Riedel cabernet-merlot glasses. The shape and size appears to be identical to the bowl of the tall Bordeaux-style ones we own, minus the stems, and we find them handy, since they easily fit in the dishwasher. Do you think the absence of the stem matters when it comes to enjoyment of the wine?
The answer: Your wine appreciation can continue without compromise, but there are technical details that will change …
Wine-specific stemless glassware was introduced some years ago by the Riedel company of Austria, though other companies quickly leaped into the fray. Designed to appeal to college students with modest cupboard space (but apparently the cash to chug fine wine), the novelties proved popular with a much bigger market precisely for the reason you cite. No stem means less headroom required in the dishwasher. There are very small ones now designed for viognier, too.
The Riedel bowls are blown to the exact dimensions of the company's Vinum series of stemmed glasses, a line created to enhance the aromas and flavours of various wine styles. Your cabernet-merlot models, for example, are big and deep to focus the full-bodied richness of those wines to all the right places on the palate. (Skeptics may snicker, but that's another issue.)
Stemless glasses have three shortcomings, figuratively speaking. Long stems serve three purposes where fine wine is concerned. Most crucially, they make it easy to swirl with wild abandon, as though waving a fireworks sparkler, lifting the aroma of the wine before you stick your nose into the glass. In the absence of a stem, you've got to agitate the elbow rather inelegantly. People at the far side of a cocktail party might assume you are miming a washing machine.
Stems also serve as a handle, keeping greasy fingerprints off the bowl. A $50 Burgundy doesn't look so appealing through the smudge of a deep-fried shrimp roll.
The stem's other purpose is to keep warm hands away from chilled white wine. But you're drinking red in those glasses anyway, which means you're probably not serving a lot of shrimp rolls.
Have a wine question?