It can be overwhelming to choose a wineglass. There are many wine glass shapes available, which can make it difficult to choose the right one. It might seem odd to ask, “Why is a particular glass shape important?” Does it really matter? Fortunately, there is enough research to answer this question. It absolutely matters.
You can have your favorite wine in any container, no matter how affordable or expensive, such as a mason jar, tin can, or mug. Wine can be enjoyed in any container you choose. After reading this article, I challenge you to do a side-by/side comparison. Choose a cup or glass that has a thicker rim, then pick one of the appropriate wine glasses shapes. The experience is what matters most. This is why I sometimes get frustrated when I go out for dinner and find that the restaurant has not invested in high-quality stemware. It can make great wine taste… but it is not always the best. It’s serious.
You’ll be able to discover the many benefits of different wine glasses shapes and how they affect your taste buds. You might find yourself developing a greater appreciation for the benefits of choosing the right wine glasses as part of your enjoyment of wine.
Oxygen: The Vitality of Oxygen
Ethanol vapors are released by wine, just like any alcohol once it is poured from the bottle. These vapors contain all the aroma compounds that give the wine its unique aroma profile. The aroma compounds are also released when the ethanol vapor hits oxygen. These aroma compounds are available for your enjoyment. This is how the wine term “opening up” comes from. Another description of the same process is “letting it breathe”. More aroma means more flavor. When we can smell more, we taste more.
Wine Glass Shapes and Their Importance: General Guidelines
Because oxygen is so important, it’s also why the shape of your glasses is so important. Wine hack: No matter which glass you use, don’t fill it to the top. Why? We just demonstrated the importance of oxygen in the release of aroma compounds in wine. This in turn influences the taste. You will need more space than wine in your glass, no matter what type of glass you use. You can then give the glass a good swirl and release more pleasant aromas. You can refill the glass again, but don’t panic!
This brings us back to the importance of shape in wine. All wines are not created equal. It doesn’t just vary from one varietal to another (ex. Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon), but also from one region to the next. Red wine with higher alcohol content and a greater body will require a wider opening as well as a larger bowl. This allows the alcohol to evaporate before it reaches your nose. You’ll likely feel and smell nothing other than the alcohol burn. Wine glasses that preserve floral and fruit aromas are required for lighter white wines. These glasses should have a smaller opening and a smaller bowl.
Different styles of wine require different glasses
You can be sure that there are people who have gone to great lengths for each bar carts wine variety and region to create a glass that you love. However, it can make it very expensive to stock your cabinets. It is not something you should be investing heavily in for the average wine drinker. We can narrow the search to glasses that highlight the best qualities of different wine styles around the globe. There are three types of wine glasses that can do the job (non-sparkling or dessert wines excluded). These three types of wine glasses are fine for me and many other wine drinkers that I know.
We can break down the wine styles into a few broad categories and come up with about ten styles. While this is open to debate, it will not be the focus of this article. These include light-bodied white wines with aroma, light-bodied white wines, and full-bodied white wines. We have eight styles, except for sparkling wines and dessert/fortified wine (until further notice). These eight styles are available in three different wine glasses.
How to choose the right wine glass
These are the three main wine glasses you can use to enjoy your favorite styles of wine:
- White wine glass with a light body
- Wine glass with full-bodied white wine or light-bodied red wine
- Red wine glass with full-bodied aromas
- The Light Bodied White Wine Glass
This glass is suitable for highly acidic wines with zesty fruit flavors. These wines do not require aging before bottling. These wines include Grenache Blanc, Albarino, and Sauvignon Blanc. This glass will hold even cold aromatic whites, such as Riesling. It has a smaller opening and bowl, which helps preserve light aromas. This glass keeps the wine closer in contact with your nose and allows for less air to enter the wine, keeping it cooler. These wines are best served on the cooler side. This is a great way to enjoy these wines in a glass.
The Full Bodied White Wine Glass/Light Bodied Red Wine Glass
Oak-aged whites can have a lot of secondary and tertiary aromas. These aromas are not fruity. A Chardonnay with aromas of lemon tart, butter, and biscuit is an example. These wines require a larger bowl to capture the complex aromas. These wines also require a smaller opening in order to reach your nose. These wines are typically higher in alcohol, so a larger bowl is necessary to ensure more oxygen contact. This glass is good for White Rioja. This glass is a good choice for the full-bodied, aromatic Viognier. It gives off rich, tropical fruit aromas at a lower temperature but not too cold. This glass is a great choice for orange wine, which is the most full-bodied of all the ‘whites’.
What is the best thing about this glass? This glassworks the same way for lighter red wines as it does for whites with more bodies. Wines like Nebbiolo and Gamay as well as the complex, high-alcohol Zweigelt variety. These wines are very acidic and have subtle aromas. These wines require a bigger bowl and a smaller opening, just like Chardonnay. This glass is suitable for roses. This wine glass shape is perhaps the most versatile and important.
The Full Bodied Red Wine Glass
The beast of all wines demands the beast of all glasses. Cabernet Sauvignon is rich in fruit and has a velvety mouthfeel. You can also choose from a spicy Syrah or the spicy, yet always fruity Zinfandel. The Grenache’s incredible strawberry sauce and cinnamon flavors fit this profile. These wines have the highest alcohol content (excluding fortified wines) and the strongest flavors. These wines require large glasses with large openings and large bowls.
These concepts are the same as those about oxygen. To truly appreciate the flavors, you need enough oxygen and space to swirl. These wines are often best to let sit in your glass for a while before drinking. To see how oxygen affects the flavor and aroma, you can take a sip right away and wait for 5-10 minutes before taking another.
Sparkling Wine and Dessert/Fortified wine
These are other wine glass shapes that were not listed. Why? You could, if you needed to, drink both from the light-bodied white wine glass. You can also choose the classic Champagne flute or tulip if that’s not for you. This is our favorite shape for bubbly. Because the body is slightly larger and the opening is smaller, you can get a good concentration of bubbles and clear aromas straight to your nose. Many dessert wine glasses don’t allow for enough space to swirl. This style is our favorite for after-dinner drinks, with the exception of the one shown above. You need to allow for some space because many of these wines have complex aromas and higher levels of alcohol.
Finally: Are Stems Important?
Stemless wine glasses are a great option for those occasions when you need additional glassware. However, it is important that you understand the importance of stems. You can grab the bowl of your glass by the hand if you don’t have a stem. This will undoubtedly warm the wine, which can be undesirable for many of the wines that we have discussed.
Yes, you should always keep your stem close to the glass so that it doesn’t affect the temperature. If you are not at a restaurant that serves white wine too cold (sadly this is common), then take the glass and warm it up. Let the server know that you are doing this, and if they do, let them know. This will help to convey the message and allow the next person to get the right temperature pour. To maintain the temperature, make sure that you take wine out of a stemless wineglass and put it down between each sip.
Don’t buy every glass you can find. It’s possible to do this with the three types we have discussed and the simple principles of oxygen affecting the aromas of the wine. This knowledge will allow you to make informed decisions about which glass you should use, even if you’ve never tried the wine before. You can simply taste it once, and then decide: Full-bodied or light-bodied. What aroma? How cold should it be? It’s fine, and you can share the knowledge with your friends.
If you want to get your hands on some of our favorite wine glasses, including some of the styles outside of the 3 primary ones we’ve focused on here, head on over to our Home Bar Must Haves shop. For parties, we also carry our favorite wine-glass holding plate, the Coravin. This allows you to slowly enjoy those bottles, or have one glass at a while, without having to finish the whole bottle. This Coravin is particularly important when we are tasting 4 bottles simultaneously at our Virtual Tasting Experiences.
Are there any wine-serving guidelines or glassware that you love? What are your favorite wine glass shapes? What are your pet peeves about glassware? Comment below to let us know your pet peeves about glassware when you eat and drink out.