I went to a dinner party recently and there were six or seven glasses in front of me. Almost all were the same size. There was also a fairly big coffee cup and saucer too. Please inform me if all these glasses were necessary for big dinner parties and small ones.
I intend to have a small dinner party for four to six persons. Suppose I want to dispense with all the tra-la-la, can I offer to pour both red and white wine in the same glass?
I also would value your comments on this whole crystal business. I know one should never have coloured crystal on the table, but what if the patterns or designs are also different, isn't that wrong? So what do I do if some old crystal is broken and I am unable to find matching glasses? Do I stop using this crystal?
Nothing is wrong with being uncertain, but perhaps you need to worry less and relax more because all the tra-la-la as you call it depends entirely on you and the occasion. I have had similar letters\e-mails\ telephone calls and face to face queries before, so I can safely go back to some of my answers which have not changed despite the years that may have passed.
Let me first address the dinner party you attended. Sounds a little confused to me because for the life of me I cannot quite fathom six glasses of almost the same size. Were you perhaps at a "wine maker's dinner" sampling a delicious array of wines? Because if you were, perhaps that would justify the six glasses. But I must confess the presence of the big coffee cup and saucer is a cause for alarm. Surely it arrived at the table not only too early in the meal but also at the wrong party, since coffee is served after dinner and usually away from the table, so it does not make its appearance with the wineglasses, and the size you have described sounds like a breakfast coffee cup trying to parade as a demitasse cup.
Five glasses are normally the setting at a formal meal though this amount can vary because of different cultures and customs. The smallest glass at table is usually for the sherry (dry sherry please, not Bristol Cream, dark and sweet), which likes to accompany the soup. White wine is the next in size to sip with your fish. The red wineglass is larger in size for enhancing the taste of the meat, which is usually the main course. The water goblet, which we regard as a must in the Caribbean is not too often afforded a place at some European tables. And finally there is the graceful, lyrical tulip or flute glass, which is for the king of all wines, champagne, which is certainly not obligatory with dessert.
All these glasses are used if you are hosting a dinner of four, five or six courses. But you certainly do not have to entertain that way all the time – or – at all.
You may wish to have a simple buffet for your four to six guests and can set out one glass per guest and offer them a choice of red or white (or rose if you must), wine. If they decide to switch from one wine to another you, of course, would pour in a different glass. The size of a wineglass for the buffet is immaterial here. You can serve any of these wines in any glass that was previously "labelled" as being a red or white wineglass when describing the formal dinner above. Just do not use a sherry or liqueur glass please.
Now about the crystal — hey, you were not right in your assumption of the use of mis-matched crystal (this also goes for your china!), but more about that next week.