The glass you choose has a lot to do with your enjoyment of any wine. The degree to which it enhances or diminishes your experience can be measured by many things: shape, weight, clarity and craftsmanship—from rim to bowl to stem to base.
Aside from choosing a wine glass that’s designed to enhance the flavors and aromas of a particular varietal, the way the glass is made is another important factor to consider.
“It’s absolutely true that the type of glassware you use, from the way its shaped to the way it’s made, will have a profound impact on your overall perception and enjoyment of wine,” says Anna Christina Cabrales, Wine Tasting Director at Wine Enthusiast magazine.
So, what is the difference between handblown and machine-blown wine glasses—and which is right for you? We take a closer look at the way each is made, their pros and cons, and share our top-rated wine glasses to help you find the ones that best suit you and your lifestyle.
Material Matters: Glass vs. Crystal
Before we get into production methods, it helps to understand the difference between glass and crystal. Crystal glass is known for its brilliant refractive qualities and contains strengthening minerals like lead-oxide, potassium carbonate or barium oxide to make the material more durable.
More commonly used for today’s finest wine glasses, lead-free crystal glass is a lighter form of crystal glass, offering the similar brilliance and clarity of leaded crystal without the weight or health hazards.
Glass, such as borosilicate and soda-lime, is typically thicker, and inherently stronger l than crystal. It’s also nonporous and dishwasher safe. Crystal, on the other hand, is more delicate, and can be more easily spun into thinner walls and rims. A crystal glass can have a bell-like chime and is more sparkly than glass, but it tends to be porous, so handwashing is usually recommended.
A word about lead: Traditionally, all crystal glass was made with lead and some still is. The dangers of lead exposure are hotly debated, but it’s believed that glasses pose very little risk. The use of crystal decanters with lead is not recommended, however, because over time, leaching will occur, releasing the lead from the glass into the wine.
The Artistry and Advantages of the Handblown Wine Glass
A handblown wine glass has an unmistakable lightweight feel. Many connoisseurs maintain that its thin rim and walls provide an unfettered sipping experience that allows you to fully focus on the wine.
Handblown wine glasses are made one at a time from melted sand by skilled artisans using techniques that date back 2,000 years. To create the bowl, molten glass is inflated into a bubble by a glassblower using a pipe. The stem is usually pulled from the bowl as well as the base, to create one solid, shimmering glass.
Glassblowing is exacting work, and yet because every glass is handmade, no two are exactly alike. The end result is a glass that has glistening refractive qualities, striking clarity and a unique design. It’s exceptionally thin, lightweight and elegant; it has a sonorous chime when you clink it and a rim so fine some say you can barely feel it.
Pros and Cons of Handblown Wine Glasses
• Exceptionally lightweight feel, thin walls and rim enhances the wine experience
• Optics are clear and brilliant; highly refractive
• Can have artful, unique designs and wine-enhancing details
• Seamless, monolithic look and feel
• Less resilient and durable than machine-made
• Not usually dishwasher-safe
• Harder to store
• Higher priced due to handcraftsmanship
Top-Rated Wine Enthusiast Handblown Crystal Wine Glasses
Fusion Air Handblown Pinot Noir Wine Glasses
Our Fusion Air lead-free crystal wine glass has a classic style and is revered for its remarkably ethereal feel. Customers say this glass is “beautiful, sturdy, and affordable … the wine glass wonder!” This light-as-air wine glass has a paper-thin rim and slim stem yet is stronger than many other handblown glasses. It’s crafted to be surprisingly resilient, and its exceptional clarity allows for a better appreciation of the color and viscosity of your wine. Remarkably, Fusion Air glasses are dishwasher safe, making it especially appealing for regular use.
$59.90 (Set of 4)
Capacity: 28.3 oz.; Height: 10”
Zenology Somm Handblown Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Glasses
Our iconic luxury wine glass, Zenology Somm, offers a high-end, expert-caliber tasting experience at a great price point. Handblown in Europe by 15 master glassblowers, it features a wide tulip-shaped bowl with a uniquely flared rim that delivers more refined notes to your palate. Customers repeatedly give it five stars, noting its elegance and ability to “bring out the aromas and bouquets of the wine being served.”
$70 (Set of 2)
Capacity: 22oz.; Height: 9.5”
Fleur Handblown Universal Wine Glasses
Our Fleur handblown wine glass is an ideal choice for wine drinkers who are looking for a luxurious lightweight glass with fashionable flair. Its large, swirl-enhancing bowl features a dimpled bottom that enhances aeration and creates a unique visual effect. Customers say Fleur is “beautifully proportioned.” One five-star reviewer “highly recommends it for formal dinners … as well as casual settings.”
$70 (Set of 2)
Capacity: 17.6oz.; Height: 9.45”
The Modern Marvel and Appeal of Machine-Made Wine Glasses
Historically, machine-made glasses were heavy and dull, but glass-making technology has improved drastically over the years. Today’s best machine-made wine glasses use innovative techniques that simulate traditional glassblowing to mimic the look and feel of handblown glassware. “Today we’re able to enjoy high-end machine-made glass that appears to be hand-blown, which is very impressive,” says Cabrales.
Machine-blown wine glasses are produced by pouring molten glass into molds in a revolving machine that uses compressed air to create the wine glass bowl and neck. The molded glass is then transferred to a machine that reheats and stretches the neck to create the stem. The base is melded to the stem, then the glass is moved to an automated burn-off stage where glass flames remove any waste, resulting in a smooth finish.
Machine-blown glassware is a less expensive option designed for production volume. It has its limits, but the best feature thin rims, seamless lines and a lightweight feel that can rival handblown glasses.
Machine-Made Pros and Cons
• More affordable than handblown
• Provides a more confident feel in the hand
• More durable, easier to care for, dishwasher-safe
• Less expensive glasses may have obtrusive seams
• Limited in design details that can enhance wine
• Some production methods yield heavy glasses with thick rims
Top-Rated Wine Enthusiast Machine-Blown Crystal Wine Glasses
Pirouette Cabernet Sauvignon Limited-Edition 740 ml XL Wine Glass
Inspired by the slim, strong form of a ballet dancer, our Pirouette wine glass strikes a perfect balance between delicateness and durability. Its long, pulled stem is drawn from the bowl and melded to a solid base, creating a seamless glass. It has a striking V-shaped tall bowl that allows aeration of the wine and looks and feels especially elegant. Customers appreciate the brilliance and clarity of this lead-free crystal wine glass, as well as its shape. A five-star reviewer says it’s “awesome … and a good value, particularly for outdoors.”
Capacity: 740ml; Height: 11”
Fusion Infinity Break-Resistant Pinot Noir Wine Glass
The Fusion Infinity glass is a surprisingly lightweight durable glass that one customer says feels “elegant, like fine crystal.” Made from a blend of crystal glass and magnesium for strength, it has a distinctive design that that one five-star reviewer, Don Y., says, “brings out the essence of the wine.” Currently on sale at the time of publishing this, these wine glasses provide an easy-care fine wine experience at a great value.
On Sale: $44.99 (Set of 4)
Capacity: 24.5oz.; Height: 9.5”
Vienna Break-Resistant Universal Wine Glass
The European machine-blown Vienna is a great go-to wine glass for all occasions, from everyday dinners to festive cocktail parties. Its modern angled bowl allows proper aeration of varietals and provides a light yet confident balanced feel that some wine drinkers prefer. Both break- and scratch-resistant, and dishwasher-safe for easy cleanups, it’s a smart and stylish choice for wine drinkers who regularly enjoy wine and entertaining.
Capacity: 405ml; Height: 9.75”
Build a Collection of Wine Glasses Based on Your Lifestyle
Depending on your knowledge of wine and how you like to entertain, you may already have started a collection of fine wine glasses or are aspiring to create one.
Will it be handblown glassware, machine-made or a combination of both? Cabrales, who has glassware for everyday drinking and some for special occasions, points out there are advantages and disadvantages of each, and reasons to collect them both.
“Handblown glass feels airy and dainty in the hand and is generally much thinner in structure,” says Cabrales, “which also means it crashes into a million pieces if it breaks.”
If you and your friends are wine connoisseurs, a set of handblown glasses are a must-have for enjoying special occasions or a special wine. If you have children and pets, and prefer carefree clean-ups, machine-made glasses deserve a prominent place in your cabinets and bar.
With all the choices today, it’s easy to build a collection tailored to your varying tastes, moods and lifestyles. Whether it’s handmade or machine-made, Cabrales recommends looking for the best in quality for both, sharing, “your everyday wine glass should also make you feel excited to drink any glass of wine.”
Maria LaPiana is a freelance writer with a special interest in and passion for home design and architecture, food and wine, travel and lifestyle. She lives in Connecticut.