Filling my goblet is relatively easy to do: a big fishbowl for red, a larger tulip shape for white, flute for sparklers and maybe a smaller glass for ice wine. Simple, right? Nope, these days it’s anything but.
We can all agree that wine glasses are both functional and pleasing to the eye. But does the shape really make a difference? And how much of it is marketing? Does a crystal goblet actually make the wine taste better, or is it just our perception of it that makes it a different experience?
The Shape of Things
While the choice of glass is really up to the individual, wine glass shape and design have evolved over time to help showcase the unique qualities of each varietal group.
- Red wine ~ best served in larger-sized glasses. And not just because I like to drink it in large amounts; a larger glass allows more air to come in contact with a large wine surface and develop the robust aromas and flavors. But not all wine glasses are created equal: Different shapes for different varietals are key. For example, the design of the Pinot Noir glass has a wider bowl and narrower tulip-shaped opening that works to provide a larger surface area to swirl while concentrating the essences towards the nose at the opening. Since Pinots tend to be more delicate in their bouquet and flavors, the design of the glass focuses the bouquet directly to the nose, and the wider bowl allows for better aeration on the swirl to fully coax out its subtle flavors. In contrast, the Cabernet/Bordeaux glass has a less wide bowl with wider opening. Since Cabs tend to have a more robust bouquet and flavor, they generally don’t need as much surface area to bring out the buzz; it’s already there. The Syrah glass is similar to the Cab in the bowl shape but the opening is narrow, concentrating those high notes up toward your nose.
- White wine ~ medium-sized, tulip-shaped glass is better due to the fresher fruit characteristics that are gathered and then directed towards the top of the glass… and your nose. As with the reds, there are a variety of shapes to showcase white wine. The Oaked Chardonnay glass has a wide bowl and wider opening to allow for maximum swirlage (not a real word). Oaked Chard tends to be a hearty and is best experienced after some A&S (aeration and swirl). Unoaked Chard/ Voignier and Riesling, like Pinot Noir, needs more delicate aeration and the glass reflects this: The bowl is not as wide but the opening is. And the Riesling glass is a little narrower still, emphasizing the fruit aspects, not the alcohol, on the nose and palate.
- Rosé ~ The Rosé design is s a little smaller but similar in shape to the white glass but with a little curve at the lip. This is to better direct the sweetness of the rosé towards the front of the tongue, which detects sweet.
- Sparkling ~ best served in flute glasses. This shape enhances the effect of the bubbles (and the aroma), allowing them to travel through the larger volume of the wine before bursting at the top of the glass. The classic, saucer-shaped version doesn’t work as well since the bubbles are quickly lost with the wider opening, and there is less surface area to pass through.While this style paid homage to Marie Antoinette, it doesn’t serve the wine as well, especially when you want to savour an older, expensive sparkler. Some flutes are designed with small cuts in the bottom to enhance the pearl swirl effect as the bubbles ascend to the top of the glass, which is half the fun of sparkling wines.
- Fortified wines ~ these are wines such as Port, Sherry and should be served in small glasses to emphasize the fruit qualities rather than the alcohol.
- Ice wine ~ I’m gong out on a limb here, but I would choose a glass similar to the Rosé; smaller to emphasize the beautiful fruit but tulip shaped with a lip to direct the aromas and sweetness to your nose and then to the sweet spot of your tongue.
The common element of all glasses is that they should have enough room for swirling and nosing. When you put your nose into the glass, you want all the essences directed up to our nose.
Glass vs Crystal ~ Glass is typically how most of us in our early days begin serving wine, and we may not even graduate to crystal until we get a set as a gift. Nowadays, the two can look very similar but the difference is clear:
- Much heavier than glass, yet more fragile than glass.
- Will capture light in a prism and create a rainbow.
- Has a more melodic musical tone when you tap it or run a finger along the rim.
- Is made thinner, and can eliminate the edge of the lip that glass can have. Little or no edge to the lip of the glass directs the flow of the wine to certain areas of the tongue, which is better to fully experience the nuances of the wine.
- No longer contains lead oxide which was discovered to be a carcinogen ~ now lead-free crystal is standard, so no worries about ingesting harmful chemicals as you sip.
- Hand washing is preferable.
- Used for centuries longer than crystal.
- Resurged popularity when lead in crystal was discovered to be toxic.
- Easier care, more durable, excellent for every day use, can be placed in dishwasher. More cost effective ~ prices range to suit every budget and style.
Schott-Zweisel makes a virtually break-resistant wine glass. Their Forte line is constructed using the Tritan technology where each glass is constructed with a hard, clear titanium material that reinforces the vulnerable zones at the rim, the joint of the bowl and stem, and the joint of the stem and the foot of the glass. This added strength gives the glasses increased durability (especially in my clumsy hands) and longer life.
Which has the bigger influence on your wine experience?
Crystal has more of a ‘stubbly’ texture than regular glass, allowing for more aromas to be released when you swirl. The thin rim of crystal also allows for wine to flow into the mouth hitting the most sensory areas of the tongue. The thick rim of the standard wine glass can distract from the taste of the wine and, according to Winecoolerdirect.com, may emphasize bitterness and flaws.
Keep It Clean ~ No, blowing the dust out of the glass, and saying, “ta dah” is not really recommended for keeping your wine glasses pristine. Unless you’re at my house. Wine’s delicate flavors can be ruined by even the slightest tinge in the glass. That goes for glasses fresh out of the dishwasher. Detergents and salts can leave residue in the glass that’ll kill the beauty of your wine, both in flavor and sparkle. The best way to prepare your glasses is to polish them with a soft, lint-free cloth (linen) before each use, and right out of the dishwasher. It also helps to get rid of the pesky lipstick marks that never really come off in the wash.You’ve seen the old movies where the bartender is polishing the glasses; it’s not just to find something to do before the trouble starts.
In the End, Do What You Like
If you do even a quick search for wine glasses, you’ll find an abundance designed to suit every varietal, style, and price point. You can get a little lost in all the choices. But I like to think finding the right wine glass is a little like finding the right companion, the key is finding one you really love, and one that feels so good to hold.