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Glassware gaffes and elegant etiquette

Committing wine-glass gaffes? Dubious about the rules of decanting? We asked Richard Halliday of Dartington Crystal to provide a little clarity
Dartington Crystal
Dartington Crystal

Committing glassware gaffes? Dubious about the rules of decanting? As we head into the entertaining season, we thought we’d better get our glassware etiquette on point. We asked Richard Halliday of Dartington Crystal to provide a little clarity

Do people worry about using the wrong glass?

Yes, but increasingly less so. A lot of the barriers have now come down in glassware etiquette, as they have in society. I personally think it’s fine to have just one decent wine glass of one shape on the table. As long as it’s of a quality to enhance the drinking experience – aesthetic and sensory – that’s the important thing.

If one glass will do the job for both red and white, what kind should it be?

It’s got to be small enough to fit in a dishwasher because for everyday use you won’t want to wash it by hand. An all-rounder shouldn’t be too big though, otherwise when you serve white wine you’ll look like you’re serving small measures.

Would you change these single glasses between courses?

I would actually – or at least rinse them between different wines; you wouldn’t eat your main course off the plate you’ve just eaten your starter from as there would be residue which would taint it. It’s the same with glasses.

In addition to the wine glass, what are the modern essentials for foodies who entertain at home?

Champagne flutes, and stemless tumblers which can also be used as water glasses. And if you’re into aperitifs like sherry, or serve dessert wines and digestifs, I would choose an all-purpose small glass for those too. If you look at where those drinks originate from and how they’re served there, you’ll usually find them presented in small glasses because they’re drunk as small measures.

Will mediocre wine served in fabulous glassware be elevated?

I think it will. It’s a bit like serving tea in a bone china teacup: aesthetically it’s just better. If it’s a good glass it should at least let the wine breathe and express itself better than drinking it from a tumbler.

What ideas could we learn from the hospitality pros to improve our drinks experiences at home?

If you’re spending a lot of money on wine in a good restaurant, they’ll decant it. And, if you can be bothered, I think that’s also worth doing at home as it makes a difference. You can take a fairly inexpensive bottle of wine, pour it into a carafe to get some air in it and it will taste better.

In the past, decanters were used to get rid of sediment in the wine, but when you’re decanting at home you don’t need to worry about sediment (unless you are serving very expensive, aged fine wines). The benefit of the decanter comes from the aeration.

At Christmas it’s lovely to serve spirits in decanters, but how long can they stay in there?

A decanter is certainly a stylish way to serve something like sloe gin. As long as it has an airtight seal it shouldn’t really matter, but you probably wouldn’t want to leave a beverage like that in a decanter for longer than three months.

Some people worry about leaving drinks like whisky or brandy in lead crystal decanters because they are concerned about lead leaching out, but we’re talking about tiny amounts and certainly not a dangerous level. To do yourself any harm you’d have to eat the glass or leave something like a really strong spirit in a decanter for several years – and then drink a lot of it.

Why is lead added to glass?

Lead oxide was used to make crystal because it adds weight and makes the glass more brilliant. It also results in the glass becoming softer and more easy to work with. Traditionally, English crystal was always cut, so softer glass made this easier to do. There is quite a body of evidence to suggest people started cutting crystal in order to hide the colour of wine: cut glass creates a visual distraction.

Cut glass is clearly a trend in barware, but do you think cut-glass wine glasses are about to become all the rage again?

I doubt it, as the vast majority of wine glasses are now machine made. There’s a lot of wine wisdom around having clear wine glasses as you can appreciate the colour and condition of the wine. Glass is there to enhance the experience rather than hide it.

What’s your tip for glassware etiquette at the Christmas table?

Make sure you’re serving wine at the optimum temperature, use a carafe and stick to a single wine glass for each person so you don’t clutter the table.

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