Wine Glass Fundamentals, or How to Choose a Wine Glass

choosing the right wine glass

Each style of wine glass has evolved to bring out the best characteristics of the wine.

If you want to extract the fullest possible flavor experience from a single bottle of wine, simply pour it into differently shaped glasses. Glass shape, to a degree, determines the flavor of wine. A set of specialized wine glasses is neither a mere homage to tradition, nor a simple means to dress up a formal table setting, even if both hold true. 

Elements of a Wine Glass

Wine glasses share three characteristics: they sport a bowl, stem and base. The differences are in the details.

The Wine Glass Base

The base of a wine glass, unlike the legs of those who’ve had one too many, hold up the rest of the vessel. No surprise there. The base has no impact on the flavor of the wine at all. The base is functional and sometimes decorative. It adds to the aesthetics of the glass, as bases vary in size, thickness, shape and adornment.

The Stem of a Wine Glass

Although the stem would appear to be another merely functional component of the wine glass and, largely, it is, the stem nevertheless plays a role in your enjoyment of wine. Its obvious function is to connect the base and the bowl, and give you a convenient means to hold the glass.

When you hold the glass by the stem, your hand is kept off the bowl. Grip the stem, and you keep the wine cooler; palm the bowl, you warm the wine. Warmth releases aromas and flavors you might not experience if your wine is chilled.

For this reason, white wine glasses are nearly always stemmed. Red wines glasses are most often stemmed, which gives you the option of gripping stem or palming the bowl. However, many glasses for red wine feature no stems. The convention is quite popular in Italy, for example. Coincidentally, many of Italy’s red wines release a full bouquet only after they warm up a few degrees.

The Bowl on a Wine Glass

Welcome to the heart of the portable wine delivery system. With the bowl, the glass blowers and molders get fancy, but the bowl’s varied forms follow function.

The shape and diameter of the bowl impacts air circulation between the liquid and your nose. Flavor sensations are impacted by olfactory sensations — what we smell influences how something tastes.

Bowls vary in diameter: wider bowls enable one to swirl the wine gently in the glass and create greater surface area from which the wine may breathe. The degree to which the rims angle in coaxes aromas toward your nose as you drink.

White Wine Glasses: Belle of the Ball

When you think about a white wine glass, think of a bell. White wines are usually consumed cooler, and the bell shape helps the wine to stay cool. At the top, the classic white wine glass sports a curve that coaxes the wine to touch the sides of your tongue, where we sense sweetness. The mouth of the glass is wide so that air can circulate the fresh, fruity flavors toward the nose.

Flutes: Wine Glasses That Sparkle

Champagne and other sparkling white wines are normally served in flutes. The familiar champagne flute is the narrowest and tallest of the wine glasses. It is shaped to retain carbonation.

Glasses for Red Wine

Some folks will drink red wine from jelly glasses, but the traditional red wine glass is more of a bowl with a slight taper near the rim. Drinking red wine, your nose should be fully involved, practically inside the glass. Rich, deep and complex, red wine gives off vapors that enhance the flavor and conjure tastes you might not associate with wine, but that’s part of the fun. Some homes and restaurants will serve Port in a somewhat taller glass to direct the wine further back on the palate.

Must-Have Wine Glasses in Every Home

The average wine drinking household need only contain three basic wine glasses: one for red, one for white, and a champagne flute. No one need spend a lot on sets of glasses, as decent starter sets can be had rather inexpensively at discount stores. Naturally, finer grades of glass and crystal are available to suit your aesthetics and budget.

How to Choose a Wine Glass

You can find sandblasted glasses and etched glass, mouth blown and mold blown. Colored glass is on the market, too, although part of the beauty of wine resides in its color, which is compromised in tinted glass. Although beautiful as a table setting, all but crystal clear glass is frowned upon by most wine connoisseurs.

Try to handle glasses before you purchase them in a box. Hold them to the light, and check for discolorations and imperfections, such as warped stems. Compare the heft and feel of a few different glasses to find a set that feels right in your hands. Enjoying the glass is part of enjoying wine.

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