Stemless wine glasses?

Never say never

October 28, 2009

Editor’s note: Anu Karwa wrote the Culinate wine column, titled Swirl, from July 2009 through December 2010.

I’ve been noticing a lot of stemless wine glasses. Restaurants use these for whites as well as reds. Do you recommend them?

I’m slightly torn on the stemless-glass front. However, if you checked, you’d find a few lurking in my cupboards, so you can guess how my decision-making ultimately leaned.

stemless wine glasses
Even for white wine, stemless is sometimes a good choice.

The stemless wine glass “revolution” was started by fine-glassware maker Riedel — and now seemingly everyone makes them.

Some of the benefits are obvious. The glasses are more casual. They’re more durable, since glasses often break at the stem. They’re stackable in cupboards, which is great for tight quarters. And — my favorite benefit — they’re dishwasher-safe.

Stemless wine glasses also make a bit of a hip statement, showing the host eschews the traditional path. I also find them perfect for non-alcoholic drinks like juice and water, to which they add an element of chic.

So what’s the downside? Well, the reason there’s a stem on a wine glass in the first place is so the heat from your hands doesn’t transfer to the glass and heat up the wine, changing the taste.

The wine purist in me leans toward the importance of the stem, while the casual, weekday wine drinker in me who hates hand-washing delicate glasses loves them.

My solution? I reserve the stemless versions for casual settings with everyday wines.

If you still want to stick with stemmed glasses, and the stemware brand you’re considering has specific versions (as opposed to just red and white), my advice would be to get the Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc style for white wine, and the Shiraz or Cabernet style for red. They have the most universal shapes — i.e., not too skinny and not too wide. But you can also procure stemless glasses made specifically for each major varietal.

One plug for stemless: I recommend Riedel’s limited-edition Crescendo, a pink glass released in time for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I’m not a fan of tinted wine glasses of any shade, because they make it hard to appreciate the true color of the wine, but these are for a very worthy cause. Riedel is donating 15 percent of the sale of these glasses to Living Beyond Breast Cancer — four glasses for $70. Buy online at

There are 12 comments on this item
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1. by dgreenwood on Nov 4, 2009 at 12:33 PM PST

One other reason to use a stemmed glass is the visual. Greasy fingerprints dull the view of the wine and the first sense you want to be involved in tasting is sight. I’ll stick to my stemmed glasses and buy cheaper ones for casual use so that the inevitable breakage doesn’t hurt as much.

2. by Jill Bentley on Nov 4, 2009 at 12:36 PM PST

Gotta say: I don’t like stemless glasses and I don’t think they are chic! Call me a snob but I don’t think sipping wine out of a juice glass is fun: it reminds me of those log ago days in the college dorm where the only glass available was often the one on the sink in the bathroom.

Aside from that, though, a large part of the rationale for having a stem is that it allows you to hold the glass without actually having your hands on the goblet: hands are warm and will ultimately warm the contents of your glass. Think about brandy snifters and people consciously warming their brandy.

Finally, there are excellent stemmed wine glasses that can go into the dishwasher. You’ll have to look a little further afield than the local purveyor of Riedel but it’s worth the search: we regularly wash ours in the dishwasher.

3. by Eric Bogan on Nov 4, 2009 at 12:44 PM PST

I’ll have to concur with Jill on this. Unless you get an ice-cold glass of Riesling from a dinner host or at your local wine tasting, you should NEVER put your hands on the goblet.

4. by Maria Hodkins on Nov 4, 2009 at 1:30 PM PST

I was recently served wine in the new stemless glasses, and didn’t like them at all. My first objection was that it was too “fat” for my hand to fit around and hold comfortably--it was a teardrop shaped wine glass, and my hand got tired of having to stretch around it to hold it. the second problem was that the glass was twice as big as a regular wine glass, therefore it was hard to judge how much wine you were actually drinking. Give me the elegant stem, any day.

5. by decushman on Nov 4, 2009 at 2:15 PM PST

I confess I’ve never used stemless glasses, so consider the source of my comment, but I’ll have to agree with the previous thoughts. There’s an elegance to a stemed wine glass that adds to the experience (of course, I’ll admit, for even casual dinners at my place, even on a Monday, I’ll use my cheaper stemmed glasses for water so I may not be the perfect example of an “everyday” wine drinker/host). I want my guests, whether they be good friends, family or special guests from across the ocean (I live in France) I want them to feel welcome and honored at my table.

And tinted, colored glasses have no place at any table, no matter how noble the cause.

6. by Joanne Saliby on Nov 4, 2009 at 6:08 PM PST

I am so glad to read the above comments. If a restaurant served me wine in a stemless glass, I’d refuse it. And there is nothing “hip” about making that statement (Is the word “hip” still in current use?) I wash all my Riedel in the dishwasher. The only breakage is when I have banged two together, and yes, they were my special Vinums! Careless of me. And my everyday water goblets are stemmed. And even my cheapest wine tastes better in a stemmed glass.

7. by Anu Karwa on Nov 4, 2009 at 6:44 PM PST

Glad the topic has stirred some debate. Not surprising - the topic of wine stemware tends to do that. It’s amazing how much research has gone into making glasses made specifically for a varietal (and now terroir specific like Oregon Pinot Noir vs. Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir) and then both proving and disproving whether it actually makes a difference.

One of the wonderful things about wine is the passionate response it evokes.

Anu (Swirl column writer)

8. by JudithK on Nov 5, 2009 at 2:34 AM PST

I was curious what people would say about these glasses. My initial reaction is that it was a fun take on a standard, but after using them, I have to agree warm hands and finger prints aren’t so good.
In our house, we serve our house red in a big goblet, I believe it does taste better in the bigger glass, and it makes the evening wine more special.
But, ans Ms. Karwa la difference!

9. by Hank Sawtelle on Nov 12, 2009 at 4:53 PM PST

99 nights out of 100 we use stemless glasses at home. Just so much easier to deal with. I don’t spend more than a cumulative minute or two actually holding a glass during dinner (that’s what the table/coasters are for), so I don’t notice a temperature issue.

10. by anonymous on Feb 19, 2010 at 8:25 PM PST

I must say that I also debated the issue, but decided to get the stemless for use at dinner.
As Hank said, you do only hold the glass for a few seconds when you drink, then put it back, and the advantage of the stemless is that they are a lot more stable with the “traffic” around the table.

11. by Jill Bentley on Feb 19, 2010 at 11:03 PM PST

That’s interesting: i personally find glasses with stems to be a lot more stable. I’ve seen far more tip-overs with the stemless kind than the traditional stems which I’ve found to be very stable. I guess there’s just not a lot that anyone can say that would convince me to use stemless glasses but I have always been a staunch supporter of allowing - encouraging! - people to do what works for them so I say to the stemless masses “Have at it and enjoy!”

12. by debashis on Sep 12, 2013 at 1:41 PM PDT

There are excellent stemmed ( wine glasses that can go into the dishwasher. I like stemless glasses and I don’t think they are chic. One other reason to use a stemmed glass is the visual. I was recently served wine in the new stemless glasses. My initial reaction is that it was a fun take on a standard.

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Vine to Table

Kerry Newberry is a wine and food writer based in Portland, Oregon. She believes a good glass of wine is a story of people, place, and time. Join her here as she seeks out the personalities, politics, and poetics that craft a wine from vine to table. Follow her online and on Twitter @KerryNewberry.

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