I truly love cut crystal, however I don’t like such on the dinner table…


In a restaurant setting the glass is nothing but a container displaying the precious liquids served to compliment the meal and enhance the food’s flavors. The educated and inquisitive consumer wants to see what he eats and what he drinks.


After giving much thought to the table cloth and the table silver, let us look at the glassware. I prefer stemware over any other type of glass for the dinner table, the exception being if the dinner table is located on a boat. I also favor the simple clear glass or crystal which does not distract from the wine itself.

Don’t get me wrong. I admire fine glasses and have had the great pleasure to watch glassblowers in Finland, Austria and Germany at work. There are other countries too which produce most incredible artistic edged, frosted, cut, colored or painted glassware often unique and rich on decor. I truly love engraved and cut crystal glasses made by skilled artisans. Many of these glasses are museums quality, suitable to be collected and admired. There is a place for such glasses. However, I do not like them on the dinner table for two reasons, “they distract the diner from viewing the wine and they can cause a lot of aggravation.”

I remember watching the breakage of a few thousand-dollar worth of crystal prior to a dinner and an unforgiving host grinding his teeth all night long. This happened in the 1970s at a private party where the host had insisted on using Austrian cut crystal goblets with silver footings. A waiter working with me dropped one tray. We got paid for working the party, but there was no tip, nothing, none, zero and we were never asked to come back.

In a restaurant setting the glass is nothing but a container displaying the precious liquids served to compliment the meal and enhance the food’s flavors. The educated and inquisitive consumer wants to see what he eats and what he drinks. A Sauvignon Blanc tastes better after being held up to the light. The green coloring in a Fume Blanc indicates to the consumer a certain dryness. A golden California Chardonnay might create thoughts of a buttery oaky taste. The golden color in most wines signals sweetness. The syrupy dark, raspberry color in a Zinfandel builds up expectations in the connoisseur and the thin blood red Pinot Noir reflects the quality of the grape used.
Looking through the wine tells stories by itself. Important characteristics as to clarity and heaviness become obvious by studying the wine held up against a light source. The experienced wine-drinker has no problem to differentiate between Mosel wines and Rhine wine, thus just by looking at the color. The same is true for most Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. Looking at and through the wine in a simple clear glass allows the study of a Cabernet, the fresher the color the younger the wine. The faded mature coloring of a red wine is telling about age and aging.

Impurities are easily spotted if the wine is served in a clear frill free glass. This way the eye is able to catch sight of floating cork pieces, age-related tan-particles, sulfur or sugar deposits. Older wines might have to be decanted, younger wines can but usually do not need to.
True, the Church, the Romans and many Royal families over the years have used silver and gilded goblets as vessels for wine at supper. So why can’t we? I did not say we cannot. I only attempt to highlight the pleasures of being able to see fine wines as they are, nude, unclad, most beautiful in color. I myself prefer to expose the wine’s body to the senses of sight, before the senses of smell and taste get to take inventory. I allow the wine to tease the brain, and to build up strong feelings of anticipation before the actual consumption.
If the guest insists to drink his wine from a coffee-mug, fine. I do not argue. But if it is left up to me, I feel strongly that the decision of, “What glass to use with dinner?” has to be based on “Which glass enhances the beverages qualities most?”
There are many types of glasses for the different wines. The rule I use is that the glass should be big enough to allow the wine to breath. The glass should also be big enough so one can swirl wine around in it.

The placing of the glassware can be as follows: Here glasses are arranged in forty-five to ninety degree angles starting from the appetizer silverware in the order in which they are going to be used.


If there is champagne with the appetizer, use a champagne flute. A smaller type white wine glass comes in handy for the white Zinfandel served with the soup. A large white wine glass is for the Chardonnay served with the fish course and the following pasta course. A large red wine glass suits the Merlot with the medallions of venison main course.

During the dinner service as a guest finishes his course and the wine served with it, this glass gets removed from the table. By the time the guest gets to his dessert all plates, silverware and glasses (if empty) should be removed and only the dessert spoon and fork and the dessert wine glass left on the table.

by helmut schonwalder