My wife and I were invited to a large outdoor party a few days ago, where wine was inappropriately served in plastic cups. Seriously?! No wine glasses??? I consigned myself to drinking water, while being quite amused by such irreverence. Choosing the right glass for the right wine is not just common sense or good nature… it shows character. Coffee is served in a cup, hot chocolate in a mug. Whether you like it or not, we’re surrounded by those inconspicuous rules, and that’s because they make sense on a practical level.
A wine glass consists in 3 distinct parts:
– The base, which you really need if you want your glass to stand on its own.
– The stem, which you also need but that remains a subjective matter, as you’ll see below. The stem is like the long legs of a pinup girl… longer equals more elegant.
– The bowl, which is by far the most important part of the wine glass. A glass without a bowl would probably be the most frustrating glass on the planet… in my opinion.
There are 4 basic types of wine glasses: red, white and rosé, sparkling, and dessert. Let’s explain the reasons behind this fundamental concept.
A red wine glass is wider and features a larger opening than any other wine glasses. The red wine will react (in a good way) to the air while being poured, and while resting in the glass. That is why you see people swirling the wine around in the glass before taking their first sip. The red wine’s full taste and aroma is reached after being in contact with the air for a few minutes. The larger the glass, the more quickly it gets the job done. If you like reds, you might want a heavy red wine glass and a lighter red wine glass. Yes, there are 2 kinds of red wine glasses!!
For a Bordeaux, the glass is taller and not as wide. A tall glass will tend to push the wine straight to the back of your mouth, where this particular wine gets most of its attention. For a Burgundy or even a Côtes du Rhône, which tend to be lighter and more subtle, I recommend a bigger bowl. With this glass, the wine will drop quicker inside your mouth, and allow the tip of your tongue to taste its more intricate flavors.
A white wine glass is about half the circumference of a red wine glass. Its main attribute is the fashionable U shape, which prevents the aroma from dissipating too quickly and keeps the wine at a more constant, cooler temperature. Like the reds, the whites can also be served in 2 glass types. For the more mature whites (with more body), use a straighter glass. For the young white wines (crisper), use a glass with a larger opening, to direct the wine to the tip and sides of the tongue.
Sparkling wine such as Champagne (aka “Mousseux” or “Crémant” when the wine is not made in the Champagne region) requires a thin and tall glass, called a “flute”. This type of glass will retain the carbonation longer due to the narrower opening, and keep most of the flavor inside.
Ah… dessert! A dessert wine glass will tend to be the smallest one of them all. The main reason is to bring the wine straight to the back of the mouth, and not overwhelm your tastebuds with the extra sweetness and higher alcohol content. Being much stronger than most of its vinous rivals, this wine should be served in a smaller glass, and enjoyed with moderation.
Glass without stems… Ugh!
Designers and marketers will do pretty much anything to sell their products, including stemless wine glasses. Call me old fashioned or too conservative, but I like my wine glass to have a stem. Primarily, this is where your glass should be handled. Your warm hand will vary the temperature of the wine too quickly and affect its taste. Secondly, if you’re having hors d’oeuvres with your wine, chances are you will end up leaving your greasy finger prints on the stemless wine glass, and when you’re trying to impress the ladies… well, that is just uncouth.
Colored glass… Double Ugh!
You can also find wine glasses with a variety of colors to make them more festive and summery. Sometimes, only the stem of the glass is colored so you can conveniently tell which one is yours. That’s fine for big parties, but not for wine tasting. A wine glass doesn’t need some foofy colors to make it more interesting. It will fraudulently attract attention, but distract you from true wine tasting. Let the wine color the glass.
To sum up…
Wine glasses are judiciously shaped a certain way to direct the wine to specific parts of your mouth, where you will appreciate its full flavor and best characteristics. Always go for clear and thinner glass. Wine tasting includes taste, smell AND sight. A colored glass will prevent you from seeing the true color of the wine.
Wine glasses (with the marginal exception of sparkling and dessert wine) are submissively designed to hold a small amount of wine relative to the volume of the glass, allowing the aroma of the wine to collect in the bowl. Typically a “normal” glass of wine will occupy about half of its full capacity, and you might as well say it is half full ;)
A wine glass should not look like a beer mug. Not everyone can afford crystal (I should know), but go for a thin glass. It makes it a lot easier to sip the wine. It’s not rocket science, but don’t belittle these important aspects of wine drinking and wine tasting. They will make a difference in your overall appreciation of wine. And last but not least, make sure your wine glasses are stored properly. Get a wine glass rack if you care about them. They are fairly inexpensive and they will protect your wine glasses.
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Wine quote: “Whichever glass you chose, may it be more full than empty.” – Anonymous (enjoy more famous excerpts by visiting our wine quotes page.)