Shiyani Saranapala, Head of Operations at Vinum Academy of Wine & Beverage. Her favourite pairing – processo with a spicy crab curry.
A fundamental essential for every establishment, the variety of choices on offer for glassware can sometimes seem overwhelming. Style, stability, variety, durability and of course, cost, all come into play. Frequent breakages are a given, so how do you make a wise investment choice?
Shiyani Saranapala, Head of Operations at Vinum Academy of Wine & Beverage, recommends before making any purchases, to ask yourself ‘what is the nature of your establishment?’ and ‘how extensive is your wine program?’ Are you a casual, laid back café, serving simple food, with 5-10 wines on offer? Or are you a fine dining establishment with an extensive list where guests expect a certain standard?
“At the end of the day, we all want to raise the bar rather than adhere to the norm”, Saranapala says, “but knowing who you are, who you want to be, and what you want to offer is the first step”.
Understand your establishment
The next consideration is overheads. “For anything that’s breakable, there’s always a sense of do ‘we really need to invest in this?’” says Saranapala. Before moving into the specialist wine industry four years ago, she worked in hospitality. The mental image of a financial controller sitting on the manager’s shoulder asking ‘how much?!!’ is a familiar one.
Expenditure on things that are, inevitably, going to keep breaking should be carefully considered alongside operational requirements. Crystal glassware may be luxurious but it also requires hand washing and careful polishing. Have you got sufficient staff to allocate to this time-consuming requirement? Will they treat the glassware with the required level of care? If the answer is anything other than a confident ‘yes’ to both questions, it may be better to go for dishwasher-safe varieties.
A hotel that provides banquet services with 500+ covers needs glassware that can be dealt with easily in high numbers, transported, and quickly turned around. A café with 30 covers but does two sittings every lunch needs glasses that are fairly sturdy, not easily breakable, and dishwasher safe.
First and foremost understand, who and what you are as an establishment, then focus on what’s operationally viable.
ALL OR ONE?
The traditional minimum requirement for glassware is a set of three: one good glass for white, a slightly bigger glass for red, and a flute for champagne & sparkling wines. Rose can be served in a glass meant for white, so Saranapala recommends that if your menu is “comprehensive but not extensive”, these three should serve you well.
“It’s not necessary for establishments to invest in 7 styles of glassware, but it also boils down to your wine menu” says Saranapala. “If you have a wine list that is 60-70 bottles strong then you’re going to have multiple styles and aroma profiles.” More extensive wine lists require a more specialised range of glasses designed to enhance the flavour profile of each grape variety, and ultimately the guest experience.
Is universal the future?
The trend of a ‘universal glass’ that can be used for any type of wine has bounded on the scene to challenge the traditional approach. “It’s a clever concept from a storage, usage and maintenance point of view” says Saranapala. Using universal glasses removes operational complexities like having to stack multiple styles in a dishwasher, as well as reducing the space needed for storage.
“I’m not sure how the glass manufacturers feel about it, as they’d want people to need multiple styles” Saranapala muses, but “there seem to be more pros than cons. It will come down to people experiencing what the glass has to offer”. With a single universal glass costing in the region of $30 (Rs. 5,400), there is a trade off with the cost. On the one hand, you only need to purchase one style, not 3 or 4, but on the other, the impact of a single breakage is significantly higher. “Price-wise you might be better off having a red and a white glass, but if the universal glass becomes more popular, it will become more affordable”.
TO STEM OR NOT TO STEM?
Another trend that’s becoming popular, particularly in European bistros is stemless glassware. Minimising breakages, portability, and compact storage are some upsides, but the downside is that without a stem to hold, there is nothing to prevent the transfer of body heat to the wine, which often affects its taste negatively. Saranapala’s view? “I’m not opposed to it, but personally I’m a bit of a traditionalist, I like a wine glass that I can hold by the stem”.
Taking proper care of glasses is crucial to safeguard their longevity. Sri Lanka’s tropical climate brings with it its own set of complications: dust, pests, and high levels of moisture are issues island-wide. The humid climate means storing glasses in the boxes they arrive in isn’t wise, as the cardboard will inevitably disintegrate and attract mould. If proper racks aren’t an option, storing upside down in porous plastic crates will prevent dust and pests from going inside. Operationally, they are also lightweight, stackable, and easily moved around.
Be mindful of where you store your glasses. You don’t want to have to wash them every time you get them out, so minimising dust and odours is important. Since the first step of tasting wine is the smelling, avoid storing glasses in musty cupboards or near cooking areas where food aroma molecules may settle inside the glass.
TIME TO SCRAP THE FLUTE?
It’s long been associated with special events and celebrations, but is the champagne flute actually essential for enjoyment of the wine? Saranapala says no. What is important for sparkling varieties is that the glass has a tulip-shaped base. This enables a slow release of bubbles by keeping the CO2 in the wine longer. A straight flute displays the bubbles beautifully, but it doesn’t give space for the aromas to develop. A wider, white wine glass with a tulip-shaped base may be more suitable for sparkling wine than a round-bottomed flute. Focusing on the shape, rather than the size, is key.
‘Wine glasses, like fine wines, have always been a symbol of civilized living’ said the Russian wine writer and entrepreneur Alexis Lichine. The amount of money you want to spend on your glassware is tied to your type of establishment. As the price of a bottle of wine goes up, often so does the guest’s expectation about the glassware. High-end establishments may choose to invest in international branded glassware from the likes of Riedl or Plumm as part of the particular experience they aim to give to their guests.
Prices vary widely, with a single glass costing anything from a few hundred rupees to easily ten times that. An average price per stem is around Rs. 1,000 – 1,800, says Saranapala. “If six glasses are broken this evening, you want to ensure you have enough in reserve for tomorrow,” so think about buying 20% more stock than your sitting numbers require. This also helps ensure sufficient supply if guests choose to drink two styles of wine in one meal.
When investing in new glassware, it pays to think carefully about all the options available and choose styles that match with your establishment style and operational requirements.