Rabu, 15 Agustus 2012

The Art of Glass Making

In a previous article I discussed the affect that shape and size have on the taste of wine. Now we need to consider the composition and construction of glass and ultimately crystal stemware.

Glass has been made for thousands of years from products like sand, limestone, and naturally occurring potassium products. It was used for making beads and dishes as well as fine crystal, the art of which has been around for many years.

Leaded crystal was first developed in the 17th Century in England when an Englishman named George Ravenscroft pioneered the addition of lead oxide to produce lead crystal. This oxide makes the glass more malleable and able to be hand cut or blown. It also gives glass a greater density making it more brilliant and clear and giving a sparkle when light shines on it.

Today the quantity of lead oxide in lead crystal glasses is carefully regulated up to a maximum of 33% but typically from 24-32%. The more lead, the more sparkle providing the familiar "ping" when glasses are clinked, a characteristic not shown in plain glassware. Since lead crystal is softer, it is more delicate and easily scratched. Manufacturing crystal glass requires a lot of effort and is labor intensive. Less expensive crystal glasses made by machines do not deliver the quality in design or sparkle that a skilled glassblower can produce.

Glass melts at temperatures around 2600F. The glassblower places an appropriate amount of this molten glass on the end of a long narrow tube-like pipe. Using his lungs he blows air into this pipe. Great skill and vision are now needed. By controlling the air flow from his lungs and twisting and turning the pipe using other specials tools, he molds the glass into the desired shape as the glass cools. If it fails to live up to the expected quality or design, the glass is broken and and returned to the foundry. Hence the high cost of hand made lead crystal stemware.

Despite the glassblower's great skill, the finest crystal may have minute air bubbles or other marks. Although they are technically flaws, they are actually a means of identifying mouth or hand blown crystal. Crystal stemware has a coarser and more porous surface than ordinary glassware. This surface helps release and thus enhance the special aromas of wine which makes lead crystal glasses much sought after by wine drinkers.

The three parts of a wine glass are the bowl into which the wine is poured, the stem to hold the glass, and the base on which is stands. The function of the base is obvious. The stem prevents the warmth of one's hand from heating the wine, particularly white wines. It is the bowl that affects the pleasures of wine drinking the most. Even the construction of the lip or rim of the bowl can have an affect. There are typically two types of rim, one rolled and one cut. The cut rim is flat and sharp allowing the wine to flow smoothly from the bowl to the tongue. The rolled rim flares outward to retain the bouquet inside the glass. Although the shape of the glass was discussed previously, it is important to stress the need to pour only three to four ounces when drinking. This leaves room for the wine to breathe and to allow the nose to recognize the differing bouquets. It also allows one to appreciate and determine the color of the wine.

Michael Evans was born in England, worked as Brewer for Guinness. Moved to U.S.A. in 1992. Since then has been in sales and distribution of imported and domestic beers and wine.

Now lives in Texas, semi retired. Interests include golf, reading and crossword puzzles. Maintains web site on crystal stemware and enjoys cooking and slurping wine.

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