Enjoying a nice glass of wine is only partially about the wine choice you make. If you want to elevate your wine drinking experience – whether you’ve selected a $10 Riesling or a $50 Bordeaux – it’s important that you don’t skimp on your wine glasses.
We recommend that you invest in the nicest ones that you can afford. You want something with a thin rim and, although there are lots of different shapes, and very specific reasons for some of those shapes, (we’ll cover the more common ones in a moment,) for most of us having sufficient money and storage space to own all of the different glasses becomes a bit of a problem. So what then, does one do? Not saying it’s the right choice, but what do we have? We have a very nice set of Riedel(R) glasses that is fairly generic in shape and will do for either reds or whites and a set of slender Bormioli(R) glasses that are versatile and are used for champagne, sherry and aperitifs. Of course, we have other beverage glasses, but those are our wine choices, and they make the grade. As with all of the suggestions we put forth here, they are exactly that – suggestions. You’ll find what works for you and run with it.
We have enough of the Riedel(R) glasses for 12 people, but for large parties, I fear, we are less discriminating. We would not expect people to drink even inexpensive wine out of plastic glasses, but we bought a couple of sets of – lets face it – cheap wine glasses from the local box store. If one of those gets broken, I’m not going to cry, but if you break one of our Riedel’s(R), there will be tears.
Why is the shape of the glass important? There are three primary reasons.
1) Visual appeal. Over centuries people far more experienced than either of us gave a lot of thought to it and decided on the best way to visually present a glass of wine. The important thing to note here is that all of the “proper” wine glasses are clear, so that your eye is drawn to the wine, not the glass. The wine is the star, the glass merely the stage on which it is presented for your enjoyment.
2) Bouquet. Not flowers, but fragrance. Your senses of taste and smell are so closely intertwined that the flavor of the wine is significantly influenced by the wine’s aroma. Regardless of the shape or size of a wine glass, they are all designed to hold roughly the same volume of wine. Just a tic over 180ml or about 6oz. Why, then are they all so different? Surface area. You should fill the glass to the widest point to allow for maximum surface area, then the top of the glass is designed to aim all of that fabulous fragrance right at your nose when you lift the glass to take a sip.
3) Taste. The glass should touch your lips, but not your tongue. You should sip the wine and let in wash over your tongue for the best tasting experience. This is where that thin rim comes into play. These are some of the more common, or “usual” wine glass shapes.
The reds, from left to right, are Cabernet, Bordeaux, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Burgundy. In general, the red wine glasses expand at the base to allow for a maximum surface area, then close again at the top to direct the bouquet. There are a lot of common wine variations that are left out. A Malbec, a Merlot, a Tempranillo, a Grenache, one of our personal favorites, the Petit Sirah, or any of the other reds will feel right at home in either the Cabernet or Bordeaux glass. Letting these lovely reds breathe a bit (30 minutes to an hour) will also improve their flavor.
The whites, from left to right, are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Dessert Wines and Sparkling Wines. White wines often have much stronger bouquets, so the glasses have straighter sides. Again, many varieties are left out, but most of your Rieslings, Pinot Grigios, Moscatos, Gewürztraminers, etc… will work well in a Savuignon Blanc glass. Dessert wines, like Ice Wines or Spätlese are usually served in smaller volumes, thus the smaller glass, and the Sparkling Wines are served in taller, narrower glasses to keep the bubbles from dispersing too rapidly and when they do, they make beautiful, long strands. You may notice the similarity between the Bordeaux and Sauvignon Blanc glasses. Some companies are making glasses that are right in this niche and they are really going to do well – like the Riedels that we have – for most of your reds and whites, unless you’re really picky and have plenty of storage space.
The moral of our story is that cheap glasses can ruin a nice wine, whereas nice glasses can take a mediocre bottle and surprise you.