The origins of the wine glass cannot be fully appreciated without a look at what began in Venice, Italy. Around 1000 AD, the Venetians brought back the knowledge of glass making from the Near East and by the thirteenth-century, Venice had become the center of the glass universe. On the nearby island of Murano, glassmakers were the most prominent citizens and it was here that the Venetian art form was perfected. By the late 1500’s, the fame of Venetian glass had spread throughout Europe and many Venetians established themselves in foreign countries utilizing the techniques their people had perfected.
The earliest surviving English wine glasses are diamond-engraved glasses produced near the late 1500’s by Jacopo Verzelini, a Venetian glass maker who was given a royal privilege for glass making in 1575. The façon de Venise (Venetian Fashion) was an extremely important selling line in European glasshouses. By the end of the seventeenth-century the prestige of Venetian glass had declined but not before an entire industry had been created. Every country had begun producing their own versions of glasses in the Venetian style.
Successful glassmakers required a lot of wood in order to heat up and melt their glass. As a result, many migrated to forested areas like that of northern Bohemia where Johann Christoph Riedel was born in 1678. This was a favorable area for glassmaking and where he learned the trade. The Riedel name is now synonymous with fine glassware. The company has been a family run business through 11 generations.
Plain straight stems gained popularity around 1740, with air twist stems being introduced about the same time. Ten years later, a twist incised on the exterior of the stem became popular. Quality crystal wine glasses were being produced in France near the end of the eighteenth-century. Cordial glasses in the eighteenth-century had bowls of the same shapes that were typical for wine glasses, but they were much smaller, holding about one ounce.
Toastmaster’s glasses were made with a thicker bottom and walls so that they would hold less. A toastmaster had to drain every glass and still be able to remain standing till all toasts were completed. Wine glasses during the nineteenth-century were often produced in sets – with a dozen each of port and sherry, burgundy and claret, champagne glasses and liqueur glasses.
The second half of the twentieth-century brought the advent of specifically shaped glasses for every variety of wine. In 1973, Riedel introduced their hand-made Sommelier series of ten different sizes of glasses which has since expanded into an all-embracing, state-of-the-art wine glass collection. The future of the wine glass looks clear – the nuances of the world’s wines can be appreciated and enjoyed like no other time in history.