Are Wine Glasses All The Same?

Wine glasses play a very important role with wines.  The importance directly correlates to one's overview of the purpose or situation.  Getting home from work and pouring a glass of wine may not require using a fine crystal glass that is reserved for special events or occasions.  Others may chose to use an everyday drinking glass if they are only in need of finding a container for the wine.  Interpretations of what is the best selection of glass is very personal with many variables.

Wine glasses come in many different styles and from many different sources.  To meet expectations for oenophiles, here are weaknesses that stand out:

  • Too small of a bowl which does not allow you to twirl the wine without spilling.  Twirling, or oxygenating, a wine is the only way to acquire the true elegance or beauty of a wines aromatics or flavor.

  • Painted or stenciled logos on glasses detracts from the visual beauty and brilliance of a wine.  Some events and wineries place stencils on the base of the glass removing the visual distraction of the wine and is much more appealing, however, it does decrease the marketing advantage of high visibility.

  • Thick glasses which are awkward to handle and distort the appearance of the wine.  Compare wine in a crystal verses a regular wine glass.  Taste and visual attributes are definitely enhanced in a crystal glass.

  • Stemless glasses present many issues.  Fingerprints and wine temperature changes due to the lack of a stem, also difficult to hold if you have small hands or when the wine requires a large bowl like a Pinot Noir.

Buying proper wine glasses gets even more complex as there are many different shapes and sizes for every style or varietal of wine made.  There is no correct or proper glass dictated by any official guidelines. Visual perception and appeal are very important with champagne glasses or flutes.  Champagne glasses or flutes are long and slender, providing an aesthetically beautiful view of the fine bubbles ascending to the surface of this beautiful sparkling beverage.  This helps provide a special image of sensuality and romance that Champagne is renowned for.  This would be lost if a newlywed couple at their reception were toasting and the Champagne was in a universal wine glass instead of crystal flutes.  Another example can be seen with a crystal glass filled with a fine Pinot wine that allows you to  see the beautiful red color and brilliance of this noble wine.  These views setup the aesthetic perception of wines that make them so appealing and beautiful.

Does size and shape really matter?  Traditionally wine glasses with larger, broader bowls are used for bold red wines with big bouquets, and narrower wine glasses are used for lighter white wines allowing concentration of the more delicate aromas.  However, within red wines, a Zinfandel and Pinot glass are quite different in size and shape.  The reason is Pinot Noirs are generally very aromatic and given a large surface area will provide an intense bouquet of fruit aromatics.  Zinfandels are less aromatic and therefore, benefit from a narrower glass opening which helps to concentrate the aromatics of the Zinfandel wine, allowing the detection and enjoyment of the fruits and spices that this wine has to offer.

Riedel wine glasses have taken the wine world to another level by designing glassware that enhances the aromas and flavors of specific varietals for both red and white wines. Their glasses provide the perfect conduit to enjoy all of the different 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.  Though they break all proper wine etiquette on how to hold a wine glass as well as other issues mentioned earlier, there is actually one good application.  At large parties, it is not uncommon for glasses to get bumped and broken due to the long stem on typical glasses that make them top heavy as well as easy to fall over.  Stemless glasses are not top heavy due to their design, making them more stable.  It is a tossup as it will not change the downfalls of warming up the wine or preventing fingerprints on the glass bowl which will detract from the beauty of the wine.  And most important,  twirling is out of the question.  The benefit is less wine and shattered glass on the travertine or wood floors.

Fill height of wine in a glass is also important.  For red wines, fill the glass one-third to one-half full.  Filling a  wine glass to the curve of the bowl is approximately one-third.  By keeping the wine level low in the glass, twirling is easier, allowing effective twirling to open the wine up.  It also makes it easier to tilt the glass at a 45 degree angle and observe the color and brilliance of the wine. For white wines, the glasses are smaller and narrower, allowing the aromatics to concentrate and intensify.  The fill height for white wines should be one half to two thirds of the glass.  By having a larger volume in a narrower glass with less exposed surface area, decreases the thermal gradient between the air and wine allowing the wine to maintain a cooler temperature over time.

It’s nice to sit down and have a beautiful wine of your choice poured into a glass that allows the wine to strut it’s stuff.  We drink, share and enjoy wines out of passion and love.  For some people it really doesn’t matter what it is served in.  If that's the case, who needs a glass! 


Rusty Sly