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How to buy and care for wine glasses

Wine requires its own style of glasses to bring out the best flavors; know which one to buy and how to care for them.

If you are drinking wine out of bargain basement glasses, it's time to step up and begin enjoying vino like a true connoisseur. This will not be an expensive exchange; simply one that will add to the wine-drinking experience.

Leave the talk about woody or fruity wines to the experts. Let's just talk about why it's important to serve the right wine in the proper glass. This will not turn you into a pretentious wine drinker (unless that is what you want); it will, however, allow you to serve wine with a sense of ease. That means no one will be laughing at you behind your back.

First, we will assume that you are truly in need of wine glasses. If you are looking for basic stock, then you should settle on one each for red wines, white wines, and sparkling wines. However, to build a complete service of wine glasses, here's what you really need:

-White wine glasses in large and small sizes. These will have smallish openings and are not as bowl-shaped as red wine glasses. The smaller size will hold about 9 ounces; the oversized styles vary.

-Red wine glasses. A standard size holds about 12 ounces. Purchase oversized glasses for aged red wines that are robust and strong.

-Sparkling wines. You should have a full set of champagne flutes as the shape allows the bubbles to rise to the top. Some experts will recommend a bowl shape for sweet sparkling wines and the flute for dry varieties. If you select only one style, go with the fluted glass.

These are all you need for serving wine, but now you should know about quality and appearance.

If it's within your budget, by all means spring for a selection of matching lead crystal glasses or hand-blown glasses. Save these for special occasions with close friends or if you want to impress. Lead crystal glasses absorb the flavors of the wine and, in turn, impart a bit of lead into the liquid. This is not a problem with occasional use. (Remember: never store any type of alcohol in a lead-crystal decanter). Both these types are also extremely fragile and the more you use them, the risk of breakage rises.

Machine-blown glasses can be quite attractive and serviceable, which makes them a perfect solution for frequent use. There are some caveats.

-They should have a stem. You want to keep body heat away from the wine itself. Holding the wine glass by the stem accomplishes this important part of wine drinking. The base should be wide and sturdy so the glass will not tip over.

-Glasses should be clear and with no detectable design. The wine is the star of the occasion; don't take away from the moment with colored glass or a cut-glass design.

-Avoid glasses that have notable "lips." The top edge should be no thicker than the rest of the glass. A lip not only causes drips, it affects how some wines taste as they are sipped.

-Purchase glasses that are large enough to do their job. They should hold a serving of wine in the bottom half of the glass. This allows its owner to swirl the wine if necessary and lets the wine breathe before the vapors escape to the nose.

Now that you own the proper stemware, you should be intent on keeping it, not breaking it.

-Never put your nice glasses in the dishwasher. The heat and action act like sand on a bar of soap and will eventually etch the glasses.

-Hand-washing is your only option. Use very little soap and a lot of hot water for rinsing. Gently, of course. Dry them and inspect for streaks and splotches.

-Wine glasses require a well-ventilated storage space where they will not be touching one another. You do not want to pull them out at the last minute and have them smell like last night's fish dinner.

Now you are ready to step out into the world, armed with the proper stemware. The wine choice is up to you - will it be as nice as your glasses?

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