It's Just a Glass

Does it really matter if you are drinking wine from a Dixie cup or a crystal wine glass?  Does it matter what size the cup or glass is?  Some people are sold on Riedel crystal glasses where others have no preference.  The question that I pose is, "What is the purpose of the wine glass to you?"  The reason that I ask this is because all of us have different interpretations of what drinking wine is all about. 

I have specific criteria and expectations from a wine glass and here is a list of key turnoffs for me when it comes to wine glasses:

  • Too small of a bowl which creates two issues. First, if you swirl your wine and most of us do, you will end up wearing it.  Second, if you can't swirl you can't help the wine open up and display its beautiful aromas and flavors.

  • Painted or stenciled logos on glasses that festivals, wineries and some wine bars use to tell people where the glass came from.  Logos or stencils detracts from allowing one to view the brilliance and beauty of the wine. I do not mind logos placed on the base of the glass.  This allows advertising a winery or event as well as allowing a person to see the beauty of their product.

  • Glasses that are too thick making them awkward and distorting a wines appearance. I like a wine glass that is light and delicate that can be held comfortably by the stem or base.  Being thin allows one to view the beautiful brilliance of a wine.

  • Glasses without stems which result in finger prints on the glass and difficult to hold the larger red versions for wines like Pinot Noir.  By holding the bowl directly causes the wine to change temperature.

When you make a decision to buy wine glasses you will begin to realize that there are many different shapes and sizes for every style of wine that you drink.  There is no correct or proper glass dictated by official guidelines but perception and visual appeal are very important.  For example, champagne glasses, or flutes, are long and slender allowing one to see the bubbles ascending in this beautiful beverage.  This sets an image of sensuality and romance.  Imagine a newlywed couple at their reception drinking champagne from a universal wine glass verses drinking from champagne flutes.  The image is quite different.  If you have a thin crystal Pinot Noir glass with a fine Pinot wine you can see the beautiful brilliant red color of the wine through the glass.  These views setup the aesthetic perception of wines that make them so appealing and beautiful.

There are also advantages to a specific size and shape of wine glasses for different wines.  Traditionally wine glasses with larger, broader bowls are used for bold red wines with bigger bouquets, and narrower wine glasses are used to concentrate the more delicate aromas of lighter white wines.  However, within the red wines, a Zinfandel glass and a Pinot glass are quite different in size and shape.  Why?  Pinot Noirs are generally aromatic and given a large surface area will provide an intense bouquet of fruits.  Zinfandels are less  aromatic so a narrower glass helps concentrate the aromas of the Zinfandel wine which allows the nose to pick up all the subtle aromas. 

If one looks at Riedel wine glasses, you will notice that they have designed specific glassware to enhance the aromas and flavors of specific varietals for both red and white wines. Robert Parker Jr. of the Wine Advocate wrote, "The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel. The effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make."

Then there are the proverbial stemless wine glasses.  I am going to let the wine snob side of me loose for a minute.  In my opinion, wine etiquette 101 is that wine glasses are suppose to be held by the stem or base.  The reason is that you do not want to warm up the glass of wine that was hopefully served around cellar temperature if it was a red and slightly cooler if it was a white.  Next, the finger prints on the glass bowl detracts from allowing the beauty of the wine to show through.  The ultimate question is how does one swirl these stemless glasses?  This is why the stemless glasses lose on all counts in my book.  I have also found that the larger stemless glasses used for such wines as Pinots are uncomfortable and awkward to hold.

Once you have the proper glass for your wine  proper fill height is also critical.  For a red wine you want to fill the glass one third to one half full.  I like to fill red wines to the curve of the wine glass bowl which is about one third.  By not over filling the glass it allows you to swirl and smell the aromas as they rise inside of the glass.  It also allows you to tip the glass at a 45 degree angle, or more, to observe the color and brilliance of a thin layer of the wine against a white surface. For white wines the glasses are smaller and narrower to intensify the aromatics.  The fill height for white wines should be one half to two thirds of the glass.


My wife picks on me constantly about my wine etiquette beliefs but it's nice to sit down and have a beautiful wine of your choice poured into a proper glass that allows the wine to strut its stuff.  We drink, share and enjoy wines out of passion and love.  If we are drinking for effect, then it really doesn't matter what it is served in.  Who needs a glass!  For wine connoisseurs, like myself, I do not believe that is the case.


Rusty Sly