Tips for Selecting the right Wine Glasses for different Types of Wine
When selecting the right wine glasses for different types of wine, it’s important to understand why wine glasses differ. The purpose of a wine glass is not just to contain the wine. It is also meant to display the color and texture of the wine in a pleasing way, to help you keep the wine at a drinkable temperature, to preserve effervescence in sparkling wines, and to control how concentrated the wine’s aroma is when you drink it.
The elements of the glass that enable it to fulfill these functions are its size, the shape of the bowl, the thickness of the rim, and the presence of a stem. The length and shape of the stem and foot (the circular base of the glass) are not especially important, so long as the glass has a stem. The purpose of the stem is so you do not have to touch the bowl when you are drinking chilled wine, because the warmth of your hand will heat it up—an effect that is desirable with red wine, which often tastes better when warm, but less so with whites that taste best chilled.
All wines (with the possible exception of fortified dessert wines) benefit from a glass with a bowl that is wider than its mouth. This bowl shape allows the wine to ‘breathe,’ releasing its aromas and allowing certain compounds in the wine to undergo chemical reactions with oxygen, which makes them taste better, while simultaneously trapping the wine’s aroma at the narrower mouth of the glass. The traditional tulip-shaped glass does this, and has been the standard for centuries (along with a V-shape, which is no longer used for table wine, though it is considered acceptable for sherry glasses). Champagne and other sparkling wines should be served in tall flutes, to expose as little of the wine as possible to air, which keeps it fizzier for longer. But for most wines, connoisseurs now prefer the even more tapered egg-shaped glass.
The egg-shaped wine glass is a relatively recent innovation, dating back to the 1950s. It was invented by Claus Riedel, who theorized that while a wide-mouthed glass encouraged drinkers to lean forward and sip, a narrower mouth would encourage tipping the head back to sip, which would cause gravity to spread the wine over different parts of the palate. Since where and how a wine reaches the taste buds makes a difference in how the brain perceives the flavor, this actually does affect the wine-drinking experience.
Egg-shaped glasses now come in dozens of different sizes, with slight variations of shape and proportion to (in theory) allow different kinds of wines to be optimally enjoyed. In actual practice, the slightly different rounding in one bowl versus another may not be important enough to be worth the price of owning more than one or two sets of glasses, but if you’re already in the market for new glassware, it will probably be worth your while to think beyond the traditional tulip shape.
When choosing between two similarly-shaped glasses, the larger size will usually be the better choice. The ‘serving’ of wine is 5 ounces, but even white wines won’t shine when served in glasses with less than 10 oz capacity, and red wine glasses may hold as much as 30 oz if filled to the top (which is not recommended, under any circumstances). The rule of size for wines is that a more complex wine needs a larger glass. Aged reds benefit from larger bowls than less-aged ones, and subtler wines like pinot noir benefit from larger bowls than bolder wines like shiraz. White wine doesn’t need as large a bowl as red, but the full fruit flavor of many whites won’t come out unless it’s in a sufficiently large glass.
When buying glasses for your home, plan on purchasing glasses between 10 oz and 12 oz for white, between 16 oz and 24 oz for red, or, if you want a single all-purpose glass, something around 16 oz. A white wine will do much better in a too-large glass than a red would in a too-small glass. Any glass you buy should be large enough to swirl a 5 oz serving of wine at least a little bit without spilling it. Dessert wine glasses can be much smaller—2-7 oz is typical. The size of a champagne flute doesn’t matter in the same way as other wine glasses, because they can be filled nearly to the top, but they’re typically about 6 oz.
The rim is a crucially important part of a wine glass, because it directly affects the way wine flows from the glass into your mouth. The ideal rim has no lip and is tapered, so that it is very thin at the edge. It may feel somewhat sharp in your mouth, and makes the glass more fragile, but that is the shape that interferes least with your sipping experience. If you can’t find a glass without a rim or rolled edge, try to make sure it is as thin and subtle as possible. It might be better to get a thicker glass with a tapered rim than a thin glass with a rolled rim.
Materials and decoration
When it comes to fine stemware, less is more. Thinner, clearer glass means fewer distractions or potential irregularities in the material to get between you and your wine. Avoid gold or silver trim at all costs, as this will react chemically with the wine and change its flavor. If you must have ornamentation of some kind, make sure that it is restricted to the stem and foot of the glass. Colored glassware can be festive, but don’t use it for your best wines—not all colored glass is chemically inert, and it will make it difficult for you or your guests to see the wine’s color, legs, or other visually appealing aspects.
Buying the right glasses for your household
Of course, it’s not practical to own a glass designed for every kind of wine you intend to drink. Even restaurants don’t usually keep around more than a few different kinds of glasses, usually one or two glasses for red wines, and one or two for glasses for white wines. Andrea Bravi, restaurant manager at the Four Seasons Hotel, Hampshire, says in an interview with the Independent that the hotel finds that “a Bordeaux glass is a great style for most complex red structures; and a Montrachet/Chardonnay for whites.”
You could purchase these styles, or you could choose the glasses specific to the red or white wines you drink most often (e.g. merlot and pinot grigio), and a few champagne glasses. If you can afford them, Riedel and Spiegelau are considered top of the line glassware producers—expect to pay upwards of $10 per glass. If that’s more than you can afford to pay, look for the styles, sizes, and rims you want from cheaper retailers. Ikea has a particularly large selection of glass sizes and shapes, and low prices, although the quality tends to be correspondingly low.