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Bringing Your Own Wine Glasses to a Restaurant

wine_glasses_on_table.jpgIt's not every day as a wine blogger you get to write about Madonna. But she made news recently (as she does every time she appears in public, because, hey, what better do we have to do with our time?) when she showed up at an Italian restaurant for a romantic dinner bearing not only her own bottle of wine, but her own glasses, too.

While the gossip mongers pounced on this detail of her dinner as an excuse to speculate about her being a germaphobe. I do happen to know that the restaurant where she was dining, Osteria Cotta, happens to have perfectly serviceable glassware. Are they top end Riedel wine stems? No. But they're not crappy glasses.

So I'm not even going to play the "why did Madonna want her own glasses?" game, or "what wine were they drinking and why did they hide it in a bag between pours?" game (though I will admit to being curious about it).

No, instead I'm going to use this as an excuse to talk about the generic question: is it ever OK (as in not completely gauche) to bring your own glasses to a restaurant?

I'll admit, right off the bat, that I have personally been tempted several times, but have never actually done it.

There are several casual restaurants (who shall remain nameless, as my intent is not to shame them) in San Francisco that I like to patronize that have glasses that don't do wine any favors. They're either small cut glass tumblers like you find in little old italian restaurants in small villages, or those little bistro wine glasses that might as well be a coffee cup on a stem, for all they do to the wine.

I sometimes buy wine off the list at these restaurants, and sometimes I like to bring my own. But most of the time I find myself wishing I had a better glass to drink the wine from.

In expressing that preference, and admitting my secret fantasy to bring my own glasses, I'm sure I run the risk of being tarred a snob. Especially given how fast the RedNek wine glasses are flying off the shelf these days.

Now, before the epithets start flying, let me be clear that my love and enjoyment of wine doesn't depend on it being served in a fancy glass. I regularly drink wine out of metal coffee cups (while camping), plastic cups (when at picnics), and anything that will hold liquid (when there's nothing else around).

But having said that, drinking wine from fine glassware does enhance the experience. Wine definitely smells better in proper stemware, and the feeling of drinking from a nice wine stem is more pleasurable than a clunky one. I personally do not believe (yes, even after having attended the Riedel seminars and comparative tastings) that the wine glass changes your perception of the wine's taste, and the idea that different wines require different stemware I have long thought ridiculous.

So yes, after dragging a nice 15-year-old bottle of something-or-other to one of these casual restaurants, just to have something nice to drink with what I eat, I do occasionally find myself thinking, maybe I should just show up with my own wine glasses.

While I have started regularly bringing my own wine glass to large public tastings to ensure a level of consistency in my notes and tastings, I have yet to muster up the gumption to bring my own glasses to a restaurant. Why? Because it seems a little bit rude to the restaurant.

I honestly doubt the restaurant would care all that much. It saves them a couple of glasses to wash and the risk of breakage, whatever that costs. But it just feels a little wrong. It's sort of rubbing the fact that their glasses aren't great in their face in some small way. At the very least, from this day forward, I certainly risk being called a diva.

What do you think? Have you ever brought your own glasses to a restaurant? Do you think it's the height of rudeness, or simply a pragmatic thing for a wine lover to do when he or she wants to fully enjoy a good bottle?

Wine glass image courtesy of bigstock.com

Comments (32)

12.22.11 at 12:28 AM

I've done it once.

I believe it is (as you wrote) "simply a pragmatic thing for a wine lover to do when he or she wants to fully enjoy a good bottle".

All of us have drunk wine in plastic, paper or metal cups in certain situations but at least I expect to have my wine in a good (not the best) glass when I'm in a restaurant. I respect wine, so restaurants needs to respect me and my wine =)

Great article by the way. Enjoyed it a lot!

RPosey wrote:
12.22.11 at 12:40 AM

Yes, many times. Especially when we know that the restaurant does not have the larger red wine / bordeaux style glassware. These tend to be small, local community restaurants that we may end up frequenting. I'm also a big beliver in always sharing our wine with the waiter / owner. A glass of wine always makes a new friend. If I didn't get the chance to pre-decant the wine before going, then taking the glasses with us is a backup plan. Otherwise, I wouldn't be taking the bigger wines that we both enjoy.

CJ and PK wrote:
12.22.11 at 2:45 AM

Perfectly justifiable, especially in restaurants which use the wretched little Paris goblet, that hideous little tennis ball of a glass condemned by George Reidel himself as “the enemy of wine”. A glass too thick and too small to enhance the flavour, too shallow and open to enhance the bouquet, and too mimsy to suggest generosity.

VinoJoe wrote:
12.22.11 at 7:26 AM

Too many times I have wished I had brought my own stemware to a restaurant, but simultaneously felt that it would be viewed as rude and/or pretentious, as you suggest.

The remarkable thing is that so many restaurants have no idea on the profits they're missing by using bad glassware. Breakage is of course an economical concern, but there are sturdy options that can make wine taste better -- and in turn entice the purchase of a second glass or bottle.

I've been to "glass tastings" that proved a $8 wine in a quality vessel can taste as good or better than a $40 wine presented in a thick-rimmed "joker" glass. From that, any restaurant owner / sommelier can easily understand the profit potential of using the best stemware they can afford.

Wine Harlots wrote:
12.22.11 at 8:53 AM

The men of the San Diego Wine Mafia do; the female contingent of Mafia roll our eyes in horror and shame...

Blake Gray wrote:
12.22.11 at 10:06 AM

I brought my own glasses to Mission Street Food all the time. I never brought expensive Riedel glasses, but I'd rather drink wine out of a wine glass than a water glass. Sometimes I brought leftover glasses from ZAP or Family Winemakers or whatever and left them there, so others wouldn't have to use water glasses either.

I'd do that again, any time.

Valerie wrote:
12.22.11 at 10:26 AM

I made this very comment twice this past week when dining out in seemingly "better" restaurants around town. Yes, food & service are exquisite. Wine list respectable - but glassware. Our only 5-star hotel wine bar has the worst stemware in town, actually. We talked about this in my Somm class and I'm so glad to not be the only one who has considered (or executed) the plan of BYOG to thoroughly enjoy the food/wine experience.

cono_sur wrote:
12.22.11 at 11:00 AM

I've never done it myself, but I have wished at times that I did bring my own glasses.

David wrote:
12.22.11 at 11:33 AM

I have brought my own wine to a restaurant, but never my own glasses. In my experience if a place serves decent wine, they have decent glasses. Though, from the comments here, that is possibly not always the case. I tend to agree with you, however, that it seems just a bit rude as well as snobby.

Jon Troutman wrote:
12.22.11 at 11:45 AM

I regularly bring my own glasses when dining out in New York City's peking duck and chinese food restaurants. The food is incredibly wine-friendly, they're almost all BYOB, and many are great spots to go with big groups. The only downside is that they only offer 8 oz. tumblers to sip from. When I'm packing a bag with aged German riesling or a nice bottle of Cornas, I just wrap up a crystal stem in tissue paper and tuck it in too!

Next time you're in NYC, Alder, I'll bring the stems... you bring the wine! ;)

Wink Lorch wrote:
12.22.11 at 12:21 PM

Like you and some others commenting, I often wish that I had, but have never done it, except years back after MW tutorial group tastings in London when we used to take leftovers to a really good fish and chip shop and bring out our ISOs that we used at the time.

Ironically, some of the worst stemware in restaurants in my experience is to be found in France, even in wine towns/cities, such as Bordeaux... Am not talking high-end restaurants, of course, but nevertheless if there is drinkable wine to be had, why shouldn't it be at least in basic ISO glasses rather than the horrendous Paris goblets? Bearing in mind that almost no restaurants allow you to bring a bottle in France, unless you are at least 2nd cousins with the owner, then very sadly I don't know how I would ever find the courage to bring my own glasses...

Todd wrote:
12.22.11 at 1:14 PM

Totally acceptable strategy. I've only needed to do it once, because it was recommended, otherwise the stemware I've encountered in VT has been good quality...but I do have a co-worker brings glasses regularly to a BYOB place.

Well played Trouty. ;)

12.22.11 at 2:36 PM

I've done it half a-dozen or so time....er, I have the Riedel carrier for that. Been quite a while since I used it, though.

Personally, if you're going to drink a wine begging for decent stemware, and the restaurant doesn't have such, and, well, why not?

KWilk wrote:
12.22.11 at 9:28 PM

Alder, I'm curious where you draw the line with regards to your enjoyment of wine out of "proper" glassware. You say, obviously, that drinking wine out of a fine wine glass makes the wine taste better than drinking it out of say, a Mason jar, as some of these restaurants have. But is the shape really all that different? Mason jars are cylinders, equal in diameter at the top and bottom. The "fine wine" glasses you drink out of, I assume, are your relative basic wine shape, like the Riedel Bordeaux glasses, which have a thin stem end, wider bowl, and perhaps taper inward a touch at the top end. I don't think anyone would disagree with you that wine does indeed taste better out of those glasses than the straight cylindrical ones. So why then, is it so hard to believe that certain wines, Burgundy for example, taste better out of different shapes? I find the larger bowl and relatively smaller opening make a profound difference on Pinot, Nebbiolo, etc. Just like I believe that Bordeaux stem makes a profound difference on Cab, Merlot, some Zins, some Syrah, etc. I am just curious why you think wine is better out of a wine glass, but certain wine isn't better out of certain wine glass shapes?

For me, the proof is in the pudding, and the different shapes and flavors from taste testing I have done are all the proof I need. It sounds like you have done the same tastings, though, and it didn't hold true for you. Perhaps for me it was just a placebo effect. who knows. Anyway, just curious.

Steve wrote:
12.23.11 at 7:39 AM

The thought of a steak lover bringing a Shun knife to Peter Lugers is laughable. One thing's for sure: he'd only do it once - and regret having done it at all.

Burgundy_fan wrote:
12.23.11 at 11:05 AM

I do it all the time - especially when I bring the wine and at small group tastings we hold around San Francisco Bay area. Even to some high-end restaurants. Usually I call up ahead and negotiate a reasonable corkage fee and as a part of that offer to bring wine glasses. Except for the very high end - Gary Danko, French Laundry etc - restaurants usually don't see this as rude especially since they don't have to wash multiple stems..

doug wilder wrote:
12.23.11 at 11:33 AM

Never to a restaurant, but I like your idea about bringing something you are more comfortable with to a tasting even though most organizations are seeing the value of branding themselves with better quality stemware. However I don't think the clip on your iPad would fit the stem of a RedNek :)

rs wrote:
12.25.11 at 11:43 AM

Brought glasses once to a Lebanese restaurant that did not serve wine. The manager advised us if we wanted to drink our wine out of wine glasses, bring our own. They were very nice and matter of fact about it.
Other than that no tho I really wanted to.

Richard wrote:
12.26.11 at 10:19 AM

Only once. A casual French restaurant in San Francisco that has since closed (Clementine, now Chapeau) that had great food, bargain basement prices but a lousy wine list and even worse stems. I called in advance to make sure it would be okay, but when we arrived and pulled out our wine and stemware the waiters thought we were nuts and continued to tsk-tsk us throughout the meal.

Tatiana wrote:
12.26.11 at 10:33 AM

I have done it several times. I don't see it as a problem. If I am bringing a $15 bottle, then glassware matters little. But if I am bringing vintage champagne or fine Burgundy, and the restaurant doesn't have appropriate stemware, I will bring my own. It enhances my enjoyment and in my opinion makes no negative comment about the restaurant. What's wrong with it?

Alder Yarrow wrote:
12.26.11 at 1:34 PM


Let me be clear. I firmly believe wine TASTES THE SAME no matter what vessel you drink it out of. Wine SMELLS different in different glasses, and the experience of holding, and drinking from, elegant, well-designed stemware is pleasing and aesthetic.

I've done extensive non-scientific trials myself, including attending one of Riedels seminars led by Maximilian Riedel himself, and I don't buy the claim that one's perception of the taste changes based on the glass, and where it focuses the stream of wine on the tongue, and other such nonsense (as if we're pouring wine on our tongues from a great height.

ChrisV wrote:
12.26.11 at 4:55 PM


I also don't believe the "focuses the stream of wine on the correct area of the tongue" nonsense, but the human sense of taste is pretty basic and a lot of the complexities we "taste" are actually smell-based. So it seems to me that if stemware affects the smell of a wine it will also affect the taste experience.

Obviously if you pop the wine in your mouth and then swish it around for the next 30 seconds, it's not going to matter what you originally took the sip from. But if you sip a wine and swallow, it will matter. In the same way that you wouldn't be able to taste a wine properly in the presence of a strong unpleasant smell (cigarette smoke, sewage, etc), a better aroma experience as you sip the wine will translate into a better taste.

Alder Yarrow wrote:
12.26.11 at 5:38 PM


Caveat here, I'm not a physiologist, but here's what I believe to be true:

The olfactory component of taste happens because of what happens in the back of the mouth and the rear nasal cavities, not because of what you smell from the glass when you take a sip. Does your orange juice, milk shake, soda, or cocktail taste different when you drink it through a straw as opposed to out of a glass? No. Neither will your wine, if you choose to give it a try.

Smelling wine in a glass is a wonderful ceremony and pleasurable activity, which is an important aspect of evaluating a wine, but the way a wine tastes to you does not depend upon it in any significant way. As a result, I do not believe the shape of the glass affects the way a wine tastes.

Chris Robinson wrote:
12.26.11 at 11:38 PM

Actually the whole premise that lead to this story was wrong. When Madonna came out to dinner with me at Osteria Cotta I told her to "bring her own glasses". I actually meant reading glasses, because she is so keen to hide the fact she wears spectacles, that she always turns up unable to read the menu, let alone wine labels! She is always asking to borrow mine ... and this time, well I just said no. If she is going to date me then let's be honest about a little sight limitation. Correct?

Tom Anthony wrote:
12.28.11 at 2:28 PM

At one restaurant I regularly frequent for wine events, but where the stemware is bad, I purchased a box of 6 base-level Spiegelau as a gift for the establishment. The only condition is that if they know I will be there, the glasses are available for my use - at other times, they use them to serve other customers. For my modest investment of $20, it has been a great win-win situation.

Andrea wrote:
12.29.11 at 9:19 AM

If a restaurant doesn't have the proper glasses, then yes, I would do it. I have been tempted, and I have even not ordered wine when it was clear that the restaurant didn't have wine glasses (why have wine on the menu?). So in this one instance, I say we follow Madonna's example.

12.30.11 at 1:05 AM

Not rude at all, unless it is used to argue your way out of a corkage fee. After sharing beer with a friend at a bar, and his tasting like soap while mine tasted normal, I decided it's not in the restaurant's interests to rinse every glass with quadruply distilled and deionized water and dry it with a vicuna chamois. It was at this point when I decided the Range Rover picnic kit with Reidel stemware was quite handy for those trips to Olive Garden.

Tony wrote:
12.30.11 at 8:28 AM

Alder, once again hit a nerve!If a restaurant that serves wine and or has a wine program ,one would hope that they invest the same with their glass program, it's all about the experience .On the east coast we have great BYOB'S - RESTAURANTS ,I always bring glasses for the appropriate wines,from bubbles,main course to dessert.That's 3 glasses,once in awhile I will just carry a 28 oz Cabernet glass if it's a steak house. It's a matter of principal.Protocal is just calling the restaurant,most places have a standard 18-21 oz red wine glass if they have an above average wine list or a by the glass wine flight program .So, [Yes] take a big ass glass[es] and enjoy the experience.People will take notice and maybe just maybe restaurants will do the same.

Gary wrote:
12.30.11 at 12:49 PM

I take my own glasses all the time, but only to BYOB's.If I have a great bottle of wine why would I want a crummy glass. I have been given water glasses, plastic cups, everything but a baby bottle. I really do not care if they think I am rude. I think not at least buying Ikea glasses of size for red wine is inconsiderate of the customer.

Jeffrey wrote:
01.05.12 at 3:04 PM

Also known as BYOB why not Bring your own glass. I infact am quite fond of my glass collection and I prefer a fine glass with a fine wine. I agree with some of the others that presentation is everything! If they object to you useing your own glass, then be sure to let them know your opinon of their presentation! Do they even use a decanter?

gtown wrote:
01.24.12 at 6:36 PM

Usually bring my own led free wine glasses, riedel uses led glasses and in the restaurant series cheap window glass quality. Much better off with the Stoelze glass series or Zantos from italy

03.17.12 at 10:33 PM

If a restaurant doesn't have the proper glasses, then yes, I would do it. Otherwise not so properly.

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