Beyond the glass: why more bars and restaurants are using ceramic cups

Glou wine dispensary owners Ron Goldmann-Davis and Rahel​ Goldmann serve cocktails in ceramic cups.
Glou wine dispensary owners Ron Goldmann-Davis and Rahel​ Goldmann serve cocktails in ceramic cups. Photo: Simon Schluter

Venues across Australia are shirking traditional glassware in favour of vessels made from sustainable alternatives such as ceramics.

At Melbourne wine bar and drinks dispensary Glou, for example, owners Rahel​ Goldmann and her husband Ron Goldmann-Davis favour large kegs and reusable glass bottles, and serve wine in stemless glassware.

"We do it for environmental reasons," says Goldmann. "It's important for us and our business model. We're not on a self-righteous soapbox, it's about offering an alternative."

Ceramic wine cups made in Cowra by Rebecca Dowling are sold online through P&V Wine + Liquor Merchants.
Ceramic wine cups made in Cowra by Rebecca Dowling are sold online through P&V Wine + Liquor Merchants. Photo: Supplied

Ceramic cups made by local ceramicist and bar regular Audrey Lim are used for the occasional cocktail and gluhwein (mulled wine).

"My partner dreams of pushing the boundaries of what we do here even further," says Goldmann. "He would love to serve each and every wine out of ceramic cups.

"By offering large format wines and spirits and serving wine on tap, we are already doing something that hasn't been done much in Australia."

"it's about offering an alternative": stemless glassware at Glou in Collingwood.
"it's about offering an alternative": stemless glassware at Glou in Collingwood. Photo: Parker Blain

It's all about breaking down stereotypes and preconceived ideas around wine, says Goldmann.

"We lean away from giving away the varietal and region on our menus. Instead, we talk to people about it after they've tasted the wine. That's the methodology with the cups too."

There's no denying that glassware can enhance the sensory experience but can limiting senses, such as colour assessment, work magic, too? Goldmann believes so.

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"In all fairness, if you're doing your masters of wine or your WSET [Wine & Spirit Education Trust] diploma you obviously want the vessels you're evaluating from to be identical," she says.

"That makes perfect sense but why the heck are we still holding on to this very outdated idea of Burgundy glasses and chardonnay glasses? That old etiquette had its time and place."

While we won't see ceramic wine cups used in mainstream wine show judging anytime soon, their popularity is catching on.

"You can change a person's perception of what something tastes like based on the colour of the ceramics," says Matt Whiley.
"You can change a person's perception of what something tastes like based on the colour of the ceramics," says Matt Whiley.  Photo: Brook Mitchell

In Sydney, bar owner Matt Whiley opts to serve cocktails in porcelain cups at his sustainable South Eveleigh venue Re. His wine cup of choice, made by Mud ceramics studio, is available in 19 different colours.

"You can change a person's perception of what something tastes like based on the colour of the ceramics," says Whiley.

"You can also change the depth of the drinking experience and the temperature as well. If you put ice in a ceramic in a freezer it stays cold for a long time."

Stoneware made by Yuro Cuchor is available through Winona Wine.
Stoneware made by Yuro Cuchor is available through Winona Wine. Photo: Supplied

When Re opened its doors, wine was served in beakers. "Drinking wine from a stemless cup is a more European thing to do … but I think more and more people have opened up to it," says Whiley.

"We don't serve wine in them anymore – we use Maison Balzac glassware diverted from landfill instead – but it's definitely something you can explore."

For use at home, Winona Wine's online store sells geometric stoneware by award-winning artist Yuro Cuchor, while Sydney's P&V Wine + Liquor Merchants retails cups handmade by ceramist Rebecca Dowling.

Cocktails are made in ceramic Mud cups at Re bar in the South Eveleigh precinct.
Cocktails are made in ceramic Mud cups at Re bar in the South Eveleigh precinct.  Photo: Steven Siewert

"People are naturally gravitating towards ceramics and wanting to use something handmade" says Dowling from her Cowra studio.

"There's a huge movement towards it. Clay touches the deepest part of the soul. It's such an intimate object because it's made by someone's hand and you're taking it to your mouth to drink.

"You don't do that with plates or bowls. A cup or beaker makes its way into your intimate space. It gives me goosebumps."

When Ravensworth winemaker Bryan Martin purchased Dowling's pieces, he was so impressed that he commissioned a range made with clay from his Murrumbateman vineyard.

"The result means you can actually drink the wine out of the soil it was grown in," he says.

Martin believes the most "characterful" drops work well in non-glazed ceramic cups.

"By that I mean skin-contact, textural and more natural wines," he says. "They're not a fit for the whole range but they're perfect for our esoteric wines because they make the tannins and texture seem more generous."

Rustic wines work particularly well in a ceramic cup. "If you're drinking wines from Georgia or eastern Europe, that's what you'd be drinking them out of," says Martin. 'You definitely wouldn't be drinking them out of a Zalto [crystal] Bordeaux glass."

However, "riesling needs to be out of a glass or glazed ceramic", Martin adds.

In Adelaide, Restaurant Botanic's beverage director Marcell Kustos agrees. "Eating and drinking involves all our senses," he says. "The different modalities, sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste are all interconnected.

"When drinking red wine from a clay pot with a rough service the otherwise smooth tannins might be unpleasantly coarse and bitter due to interaction between our sense of touch, mouth-feel and taste."

A rough vessel also has a larger surface area, which influences the aroma release of the liquid.

"On the other hand, cups can evoke nostalgic feelings and a level of comfort," says Kustos, who uses ceramic cups to serve garden tea and garden liquor at Restaurant Botanic.

In his long career as a sommelier, Kustos has noticed a parallel between the growing popularity of "other than wine" beverages and the use of alternative vessels from which to imbibe.

"Sake has enjoyed sommeliers' attention for a while now and is commonly served in sake cups or stemless champagne glasses," he says. "Spirits fall into a similar vessel choice."

Differentiation is another driver, adds Kustos. "If you think about it, a benchmark shiraz from biodynamically farmed, low-yielding old vines and a mass-produced, low-quality shiraz look very similar in the glass.

"If done right, alternative glassware can help to evoke emotion and convey the unique story of the wine."