You may have heard that the actual wine glass affects the taste of the wine. And you wonder, "Is that true? Or, is it just another claim to get us to purchase a lot of pricy glassware?"
Choosing the correct wine glass is a little bit science and a little bit personal opinion. It involves knowing something about the wine itself and which glass is said to optimize that grape’s characteristics. But before we delve into the different beliefs on wine glass shapes, let’s consider the parts that makeup a wine glass.
The Anatomy of a Wine Glass:
The wine glass is made up of four parts: the rim, bowl, stem and base.
The bowl of the glass should be large enough to swirl the wine when doing a tasting. This swirling allows air into the wine, letting it releases the wine’s aromas.
The larger the bowl, the more wine that's exposed to the air, allowing the aromas to accumulate in the bowl. This is extremely beneficial for red wines.
The bowl should also taper in slightly at the top. This shape helps to concentrate the aromas as they are released from the swirling up to the nose. Also look for a thin lip on the glass verses the thick-lipped glasses for better wine intake.
If you are holding a wine tasting with friends, then you need to use clear wine glasses. A clear glass allows you to see the true color of the wine, and that can tip you off to several factors such as the type of grape used and the age of the wine. If you’re just having a fun gathering, then go for the cute, colored glasses and enjoy. As a side note, the black stemware you may find is used for a blind wine tasting where you do not want the color of the wine to influence the taster.
Although stemless wine glasses look great and break less, for tasting, it’s best to use a wine glass with a stem. This keeps your hand off the bowl and thus the heat from your hand is not warming up the wine. Finger smudges also affect your view of the wine.
A lot of research has gone into the design of wine glasses. It is believed that the shape of the wine glass concentrates the flavors and aromas of the wine, emphasizing the grape's characteristics better. If you wish to accentuate the wine tasting experience, then the glass does matter.
It is worth mentioning here the belief that different areas of the tongue pick up different flavor such as salty, sweet, sour and bitter has been disproved. But the wine glass shape most definitely does affect the bouquet of the wine, allowing for the flavors to develop as aeration occurs.
The debate as to whether lead crystal glasses are safe or not has been going on for years. Why would you consider a lead crystal glass? Lead crystal allows for better refraction of light, which allows you to see the color of the wine better. Plus the lead crystal surface is microscopically rougher than glass, which allows the wine more air when swirled. For Champagne glasses, this creates even more bubbles. The choice is yours.
Three Basic Wine Glass Shapes
For white wines use a glass with a smaller bowl to allow less air onto the surface to the wine. The smaller bowl shape helps contain the aromas and keeps the wine cooler, longer. The narrow glass also directs the aromas directly up to your nose. White wine glasses usually hold 10 to 12 oz of wine.
For sparkling wines or Champagne use a flute shaped glass. This shape helps keep those bubbles bubbling the longest since the surface of the wine isn’t exposed to the air too quickly. It also keeps the aromas concentrated.
Red Wine Glasses
This glass is large with a longer bowl and taped at the rim. The large bowl allows for plenty of swirling, which lets air into the wine and releases the aromas. The tapered sides pull that aroma up for a full nose and the wine is directed to the back of the mouth.
This glass has a wider bowl than the Bordeaux glass to allow more air to enter the wine. The slightly angled sides help create a full bouquet and direct the wine onto the tip of the tongue.
This glass has a much smaller bowl than a red wine glass. This helps to keep the wine chilled. White wines do not need aeration like reds, so the mouth opening is much smaller. The narrow rim delivers the wine directly to the front of the tongue.
This glass has a narrow bowl that leads the aromas straight to the nose. It also directs the wine directly to the sides of the tongue where the full crisp taste can be enjoyed.
This glass is tall and narrow so that the bubbles keep coming. The narrow opening helps keep the wine chilled and the fizziness enjoyable.
If you don’t want a glass for reds and a glass for whites, you can always use an all-purpose wine glass. This is also used as a water glass. It has a short stem and large round bowl.
Glasses to Consider
Riedel is an eleventh generation Austrian crystal maker that has produced lead crystal wine glasses for over 250 years. Riedel also produces glasses that are machine blown and free of lead. http://www.riedel.com/
Bottega del Vino crystal wine glasses are hand blown, yet sturdy enough for restaurant use. The Bottega del Vino’s slogan says, “If the wine matters, so does the glass.” http://www.bottegadelvinocrystal.com/
Spiegelau (now owned by Riedel) produces machine-made wine glasses in Germany. These glasses are certified ”extremely dishwasher safe.” http://www.riedel.com/
Ravenscroft is the world leader of lead-free crystal wine glasses. They offer close to 30 different hand blown wine glass styles, crafted at their European factory. http://www.ravenscroftcrystal.com/
Crate & Barrel wine glasses are one of the best values out there. Great price, nice designs, and durable. If you’re just starting out with wine, this would be my choice. http://www.crateandbarrel.com/dining-and-entertaining/wine-glasses/1
If you drink only Merlot, you may want to buy high quality glasses made just for Merlot wine. But if you enjoy a variety of red wines, save yourself some cash and purchase a high quality line of Bordeaux or Burgundy wine glasses. You can enjoy your Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah and Malbec all in the same glass. (Just not at the same time, please ; )
Care of wine glasses:
Wine glasses have always been best handled by hand washing in only hot water, especially if they are delicate or expensive. But more and more glass companies are offering quality wine glasses that can be machine-washed. Just be sure the glasses are clean of soap and residue after washing.
Do a glass comparison of your own. Buy a couple of high quality wine glasses and compare the same wine in them and a lower quality, mass produced glass. Or check online to see if a glass comparison wine tasting is being held in your area.
Remember, wine is a subjective experience. It is still personal opinion if the glass affects or improves the wine’s taste.
If you want to experience all of the nuances of a wine – go for the glass created for it. However, this does not mean you have to purchase a different glass for each wine you like. You can decide to buy a high quality Bordeaux glass for reds and a higher quality Chardonnay glass for whites and be amply covered. Just remember, the best wine glass is the one that makes the wine taste the best to you!