The real differences between glass and crystal wine glasses, along with a few important details about choosing the right glassware based on your needs,and how it can affect your wine tasting.
Crystal contains minerals (typically some lead) which strengthens it.
The primary difference between crystal vs. glass is that crystal glass contains anywhere from 2–30% minerals (lead or lead-free). The key feature of crystal wine glasses is that the minerals strengthen the material, making it possible to produce durable but thin wine glasses.
Want to know more about choosing a wine glass by its shape? Check out this neat infographic about choosing the right wine glasses
Crystal vs Glass When it Comes to Wine Glasses
Crystal glass doesn’t actually have a crystalline structure (e.g. a quartz rock), but the name stuck because it sounds a lot less menacing than lead glass (which is what crystal glass actually is). So for the sake of convenience, we’re going to keep calling it that… you can too.
- Refracts light (e.g. sparkly)
- more durable; rim can be made very thin
- Is porous and usually not dishwasher safe
- lead and lead-free options
- Expensive ($$$)
- Typically more affordable ($)
- Is non-porous and dishwasher safe
- Borosilicate glass provides high-end durable glass option
Benefits of Glass
There are a great many types of glass, so suffice it to say that this article breezes over the basics. That said, the primary benefit of glass is that it’s non-porous and inert, meaning that it will not absorb chemical aromas or corrode if you wash it in your dishwasher. Most glass wine glasses will have a lip at the rim for durability which is not a desirable feature for wine enjoyment. This is why glass wine glasses tend to be made and sold more cheaply. There is, however, one type of glass with some great potential and that’s borosilicate glass. It has high durability, heat and scratch resistance–if you’re familiar with bodum coffee glass mugs, these are also made with borosilicate.
Benefits of Crystal
Crystal is a bit of a misleading term, it should actually be called lead glass (or mineral glass) because it does not have a crystalline structure. The benefits of crystal is its ability to be spun thin. This is useful specifically for wine glasses at the rim/edge of the glass where it can be very thin, but still quite strong. Lead glass also refracts light, which is quite desirable when ogling your wine. There is another type of crystal that will excite people with dishwashers called lead-free crystal. It’s usually made with magnesium and zinc. Lead-free crystal is not only durable, but many are dishwasher safe. Not that I’d ever put one in my dishwasher, but restaurants do, so you can too!
Lead vs Lead-free Crystal
As far as quality, both types of crystal –lead and lead-free, –can be crafted into very fine glasses. Traditionally, all crystal glass was leaded glass and many of it still is. It’s not dangerous as a glass because wine is not exposed to the glassware long enough to leach lead. This only happens in long term storage, for example if you were to store whisky for over a week in a crystal whisky decanter.
Not All Crystal is Made Equal
In the UK, a glass product must contain at least 24% mineral content. The percentage of mineral matters and will affect the strength of the crystal. In the US, however, there is little regulation associated with the term crystal glass and manufacturers may misuse the term.
Which is Better?
When choosing wine glasses, the best way to start is to think about your personal situation.
- If you hate hand-washing things, look for lead-free crystal or standard glass
- If you break things frequently, go for glass and keep on partying.
- If you want the have the “best”, get hand-spun crystal
- If you love your mom, buy her crystal too.
For example, if you have kids or cats, then you might want to opt for an affordable glassware solution or stemless glasses that are less likely to get knocked over. That said, if you can have just 1 or 2 special crystal glasses for occasional wine appreciation, they make a big difference in the tasting experience, even if it’s just a feeling.
Know Your Wine
Okay, let’s all admit that reading books is super time consuming. That’s why this book is made of infographics. You’ll get wine smarter just by keeping your eyes open… the only thing you’ll need to add is wine.