rowing up, one of my fondest holiday memories was getting to use my grandmother’s good china and stemware. Each year, as precisely timed as the leaves changing from green to amber and finally to fuchsia, I would watch my mother and grandmother remove the family’s china and stemware from the cabinet and begin the long process of washing away a year’s worth of accumulated dust in preparation for our Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It was a funny process.
Our daily dinner table was a far cry from formality and my family was of the no-frills practical variety. It was a hungry rabble of rambunctious people more focused on the umpteen helpings we could pile haphazardly on our plates than the quality of the surface the food was resting on.
This practicality was epitomized in our day-to-day dishes.
The earliest set I remember was a horrible avocado color. The ColorFlyte Melmac dishes were great for the rug rats and curtain climbers who built gravy volcanoes in our mashed potatoes and finger-painted with one another’s chocolate pudding. The plates were as ugly as they were indestructible and I think they can probably still be found intact in a landfill somewhere in South Florida.
As we aged, our kitchenware became more civilized. My mother got a job as a secretary and began attending Tupperware or vaporless cookware parties with her friends. Like most haggard homemakers at that time, she still did all of the cooking and cleaning and we were smart enough to keep our hungry mouths shut each time she fell head over heels for the latest and greatest kitchen helper.
As predictable as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, each new timesaver was given a trial run on our dinner table. Our preschooler safe plates were replaced with stove-to-table Blue Cornflower Corningware, Pyrex-oven safe serving bowls and sturdy stoneware plates that you needed a forklift to carry to the table. Paper napkins and plastic coated mushroom-themed placemats soon replaced my mom’s hand painted Artex-painted tablecloths and Aunt Ruth’s embroidered napkins. With two paychecks between them, my parents finally bought their first automatic dishwasher.
The idea “dishwasher-safe” became my mother’s unspoken mantra. Out of necessity, the casual ruled at a home, where a working class family’s tableware had everything to do with easy clean-up and little to do with elegance.
As an adult, my own kitchen reflects my mother’s motto of K:I:S:S: (keep it simple stupid), and if a plate or bowl cracks, gets chipped or is dropped I don’t bat an eye. I can pick up a new one at one of Rome’s IKEA outlets or the corner discount store for pocchi soldi. My wine glasses however are another story.
Wine is not a juicy bistecca or a slice of pumpkin pie, something that sits on its sacrificial surface, passively waiting to be consumed. Wine is all about movement and visuals and the glasses we pour our wine in are as important as having the right knives in your kitchen and play a huge part in what you will experience. Sipping wine is experienced by all five of our senses and while a $40 glass won’t make swirling a cheap wine into a pricy award winner, it will surely raise the pleasure of drinking it.
We swirl wine to oxygenate it. This agitation of the glass, aside from looking pretty, releases the ethers, esters and aldehydes, the important sensory carbonyl compounds that give wine its wonderful bouquet.
The idea that one glass could be right for Cabernet Sauvignon but wrong for Ribolla Gialla might sound absurd, but Google the subject on the Internet or pick up a set of Riedel stemware, the Lamborghini of wine glasses, and you will understand firsthand why wine evangelists worship at this house of crystal.
Wine and elegant stemware can add the perfect finishing touch to your family’s servizio buono table this holiday season and are as important as grandma’s green bean casserole. But give yourself permission to use the good glasses year round. Sure, you will feel indulgent sitting in front of the television with a elegant glass paired with a bowl of steaming chili on a chilly autumn night, but at the end of the day, it’s a small indulgence that means you won’t be washing another year of dust away just in time for your party guests to arrive.
As for the wine, here are two recommendations for the two holidays ahead, and their appropriate glasses.
Ribolla Gialla This is an indigenous golden white wine from the region of Friuli that traces its roots back to the mid 1300s. It’s a great celebratory wine with the taste of Acacia, chestnut flowers, candied orange peel and apricots. Best served in a glass for Alsace or Gewürztraminer where the glass’ spherical form helps to reveal the fruit and more subtle mineral components of the wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon This is the world’s wine of serendipity. It can be pricy and elegant enough to serve to a president or casual enough for spaghetti dinner Fridays. Beautifully inky in the glass with a nose of rich cassis liqueur tinged with vanilla, it’s a wine worth sticking your nose in the glass for.
If you buy one elegant wine glass, make it is a combo suitable for Cabernet, Merlot and Bordeaux. These glasses are developed to highlight the unique characteristics of these reds. And the large bowl allows both young and more mature wines to breath so you can experience the full spectrum of aromas.