T
hat Zalto glassware is structurally sound seems a minor miracle. The featherlight bowl, so fine it dissolves into its surroundings, is held up by a stem not much wider than a lollipop stick. But there’s much more to a Zalto than appearances. Leading sommeliers claim that it enhances the nose and flavor of a wine in a manner unlike any other glassware in the world, a feature that has solidified it as the uncontested favorite among top-tier restaurants.

While Zalto wine glasses have only been in production for little more than a decade, the artistry that laid the foundation for the glassware dates back to the 1400s. For six generations, the Zalto family has worked as the leading artisanal glassmakers in Lower Austria’s Neunagelberg, a major wine region. In 2003, Kurt Zalto approached Father Hans Denk, a local priest with a renowned palate for wine, to collaborate on a stemware collection. What resulted was a series of precision-engineered wine glasses, applying Father Denk’s comprehension of wines to Zalto’s glassmaking capabilities and marrying pure form with superlative function.

“Everything about the production of a Zalto glass has been pushed to the extreme.”

Zalto distributed primarily to local winemakers at the outset. In 2005, while touring Austrian vineyards, wine importer Stephan Schindler, of California’s Winemonger Imports, learned of Zalto glassware, which was still fairly new at the time. Stephan and his wife, Emily, worked with the company (and Father Hans Denk) to bring it to the U.S. for the first time.

The duo seeded the glassware on wine forums and message boards, offering a free set to anyone willing to cover the cost of shipping. By 2010, business began to accelerate. High-end restaurants began purchasing sets to use for VIP clientele, and by 2012, San Francisco’s Saison purchased the complete Zalto line for use throughout the restaurant.

On the East Coast, the glasses began landing on the tables of select restaurants in 2013. New York’s Charlie Bird was among the first to adopt Zalto as its exclusive wine glass. “Everyone who picks up that glass for the first time has some reaction to it,” says Grant Reynolds, wine director of Charlie Bird and its sequel restaurant, Pasquale Jones. “For us, design is really important. [We shy from the ornate or gaudy], and Zalto is really clean and beautiful and simple,” he says, adding that the glasses are “highly effective” in intensifying the underlying flavors of a wine.

The finely honed craftsmanship behind a Zalto is near impossible to ignore — and it goes a long way toward fostering conditions conducive to best tasting a wine. Whereas machine-made glasses have a rounded lip, Zalto’s glasses are polished down to be flat, essentially dissolving the barrier between mouth and wine and improving delivery to the tippler’s palate. “[The glasses] disappear into the background and let you taste the wine unadulterated by the heft or body of the vessel,” says Zalto brand ambassador and award-winning sommelier Aldo Sohm. He says that his first time sipping from the glassware was revelatory. “It was like having previously unheard-of clarity about a wine. I didn’t want to drink out of anything else.”

Some of the molds and tools that Zalto uses to hand craft each glass. (Photo: Zalto)

“Everything about the production of a Zalto glass has been pushed to the extreme,” says Winemonger Imports’ Emily Schindler of the handblown stemware. “From the finishing of the rim to how thin and light the glasses are, and even where the glass — which is one piece from the rim to the bottom of the stem — connects to the base. [The artisans] take an extra step to clean away as much excess material at that juncture, which results in a glass that balances perfectly in your hand.”

But for all its acclaim, a Zalto doesn’t inherently make a wine taste better. It merely magnifies a wine’s character. So while the stemware can deliver “the finest possible expression of a wine,” Schindler says, “it can just as easily show a wine’s faults.” Zalto’s product, then, is more than a mere vehicle for consumption. It’s a precision instrument — one that remains highly coveted for its aesthetics and effect on wine, equally and alike.

More From The Grails Issue

An exploration of the products in our lives that are so singular, so special and so intensely personal that no others compare. From brand new multi-million-dollar jets, to Brazilian rosewood furnishings, these are Grails. Read the Stories