Why So Many Different Types of Wine Glasses?
Collecting and using the “perfect” wine glass can be a grand pursuit which involves not only intellectual knowledge but acquired experience. (Luckily, research requires drinking wine in different glasses, so how can that be bad?) Unfortunately, good quality wine glasses run between $20-$100 and more a glass and a single line of glassware may be 5-10 types of wine glasses. This can be a big commitment monetarily, not to mention having adequate storage while obtaining enough glasses for entertaining. However, any great hobby deserves commitment and if one often indulges in $100 bottles of wine then an investment in fine wine glasses seems almost a necessity.
While there is evidence the correct glass does, indeed, enhance wine “performance” it seems less likely an average wine drinker will notice the subtle nuances between two different types of red wine glasses; that being said, there is a distinction between “red” and “white” wine glasses that even a novice can appreciate. Understanding this will provide a great starting place to begin building that appreciation and collection.
Let’s start with the basics: Wine glasses have a three part construction. First, there is the foot or base which allows it to stand, secondly a stem which gives you a “grasp of the situation,” and lastly the bowl which provides the place for the “good stuff.” Many will agree that holding a wine glass by the stem is the preferred manner by which to drink, as this allows the wine to be seen clearly by preventing finger smudges on the surface of the glass. Because sight is one of the most important senses used in truly appreciating wine, this viewpoint is valid (and what if your food pairing is Buffalo Hot Wings?) Holding the glass by the stem also prevents warming of the wine from your hands. (Many will argue that this is precisely why they enjoy holding theirs by the bowl—it’s really about preference.)
Glasses should be clear glass or crystal, allowing your sense of sight to observe the color and clarity of the wine. Thin rather than thicker types of glasses are preferred, not merely because a heavy glass is burdensome, but thick rims are harder to sip from, (who likes dribbles?) and detracts from the wine. The opening of the bowl should be large enough for your nose, since smell is another major sense used in judging wine. (Swirl, See, Sniff and Sip!)
There are several varieties of stemware, yet basically four wine glass types:
Red Wine Glasses
To enjoy the richness of “medium or full-bodied” reds, the wine should be served at room temperature (or average 60-65 degrees F) and in a “red wine” glass. These glasses are distinguished by a larger “bowl “which allows more wine to be exposed to oxygen and bring out the flavors and aromas. Oxygen is important for your vintage to live up to its full potential which is also why many red wines benefit from decanting or aeration. There can be slight difference in the widths of the bowls designed to benefit each individual varietal. If you were to splurge a little on two types of wine glasses for red, this would be the place to do so. For instance, a glass best designed for a Pinot Noir or other more delicate reds is called a “Burgundy” wine glass which has a larger bowl pushing the wine to the front of your mouth to detect the subtleties. “Bordeaux” glasses are the slightly taller, thinner cousin yet still have an amble bowl and are used for heavier reds. Often, red wine glasses have longer, thinner stems, as well, for easier swirling of the glasses (although both red and white wines should be swirled) allowing even more oxygen to “open up” the wine. (And no matter how much you are tempted to fill the glass to the brim, pour less than half way up the glass to allow swirling and plenty of room for the wine to “breathe.”)
White Wine Glasses
White Wines require less oxygenation so the bowl of the glass is smaller. Described as “U” or egg-shaped, the white wine glass allows the aroma to be concentrated, which is the crowning glory of most whites wines. Although most bowls are narrow, which accents a lighter, newer wine, a slightly larger bowl can benefit aged whites such as Chardonnay. The glasses are sometimes smaller than their red counterparts in volume as well. The design also slows down the warming process. Whites should be enjoyed chilled, although not ice cold–around 40-45 degrees, with some whites opening up wonderfully as they near room temperature. The stems are often thicker to provide stability in handling as this encourages stem holding.
Sparkling Wine or Champagne Glasses
Tall, narrow “flutes” accentuate sparkling wines to the fullest. Bubbles are the key to “bubbly” and the construction of these glasses promotes and prolongs the bubble’s journey from bottom to top. The shape also enhances the subtle aromas of the wine. These glasses can be filled higher because no swirling is required. Make sure you chill these wines well; at least 40 degrees and keep the bottle in ice to keep it bubbly longer.
Dessert Wine Glasses
Sherry, Port, Late Harvest and most other dessert wines benefit from a smaller version of regular wine glasses, usually ranging from 2-7 ounces. They often taper or flare at the top to help offset the sweetness of the wine as it hits your palate. Because these wines are sweeter, richer, and have a higher alcohol content, a little goes a long way. The temperature of these wines varies.
Other Types of Wine Glasses
Wine glasses are just a part of the big picture when it comes to enjoying your wine. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a rustic Chianti at your favorite Italian restaurant in small “juice” glasses. A whole line of stemless wine glasses for reds and whites now fills the shelves (so much for smudges and warming the wine.) And most helpful seems to be the multi purpose wine glasses. Their designs are big enough to accommodate a red with a slightly larger bowl, but not too wide to detract from supporting the whites. (Just remember to swirl or decant to help your red wine breathe a bit more.)
Whichever glass you choose for your drinking pleasure, relax and enjoy the whole experience. With the basics down, your exquisite wine will enhance that perfect meal no matter what types of wine glasses vie for your attention. Experiment and have fun. Practice makes perfect!