You can drink wine out of virtually any vessel - an old goblet, a coffee mug, or even the bottle itself - but in order to have the best tasting experience, it is important to select glassware that highlights the characteristics of the wine you’re serving. This guide will help you identify the proper stemware for a wide range of grapes and styles.
Parts of a Wine Glass
Wine stemware is comprised of four main parts:
The upper edge of a glass where wine comes into contact with a taster’s mouth. The best type of wine glass always has a very thin rim, allowing the taster to focus more on the texture of the wine and less on the feeling of the glass itself.
The rounded upper section of a glass where the wine is held. Bowls come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, but generally speaking, the bowl should have a wider diameter than the rim to allow for proper swirling. Swirling helps to aerate the wine and volatilize its aromatic compounds. A wine glass should never be filled to more than one-third of the total height of the bowl in order to leave sufficient space for swirling and to allow room for the taster to insert their nose into the glass.
The midsection of a wine glass that connects the bowl to the base. Proper etiquette dictates that a wine glass should always be held by the stem, but there are practical reasons for this - the body heat in your fingers can actually raise the temperature of the wine in your glass, and any lotions or perfumes on the hands can overpower the bouquet of the wine. Because of this, stemless glasses are not considered appropriate vessels for fine wine, and are better suited for more casual drinking.
The flat, round piece at the bottom of a wine glass. The size of the base is proportional to the width of the bowl, and serves to stabilize the glass when standing upright.
Glass or Crystal?
Wine stemware is typically made from either glass or crystal, and each material has its own benefits and drawbacks. On the whole, glass is more affordable, and because the material is non-porous and inert, it will not absorb chemical aromas or corrode in the dishwasher. That said, glass is extremely fragile, and most glass vessels have a rounded lip at the rim which can interfere with the experience of the wine.
In contrast, crystal (which is actually a form of glass that contains anywhere from 1% to 30% of lead and other minerals) is more durable than glass and can be spun thinly to produce a rim with a seamless edge. It is highly reflective, and can be carved into attractive designs, but neither of these qualities have any effect on the wine.
On the other hand, crystal is far more expensive than glass, and because it is porous, it must be washed by hand. We recommend stocking your kitchen with glass stemware and keeping only one or two sets of crystal stemware on hand for special occasions.
Styles of Wine Glassware
Wine glasses can be categorized into five main types:
Flutes are glasses with tall and slender bowls that allow bubbles to form in Champagne and other sparkling wines. They have longer stems which help to preserve a chill in the wine, and they also have narrow rims that direct the sensation of the bubbles towards the tip of the tongue.
White Wine Glasses
Also known as All Purpose or AP glasses, white wine glasses have small bowls in order prevent the rapid warming that would occur in a vessel with greater surface area. These shorter bowls also keep the wine in close proximity to a taster’s nose, delivering bright aromas even at lower temperatures. This style of glassware is ideally suited to most white varieties including Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling.
Bordeaux glasses look like oversized white wine glasses with taller and broader bowls. This added space encourages oxidation, a process that diffuses alcohol aromas and softens harsh tannins in full-bodied red wines. This style of glassware is best for big, bold reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Montepulciano, and Zinfandel.
Despite the fact that the wines served in Bordeaux stems are “bigger” - that is, richer and more fully flavored - Burgundy glasses are the largest type of stemware, with nearly spherical bowls that provide plenty of space for more delicate wines to gather their aromas. These are the best type of wine glasses for the so-called Burgundian varietals - Chardonnay and Pinot Noir - as well as other light-to-medium bodied reds like Gamay and Nebbiolo.
Copitas or dessert wine glasses are the smallest style of wine glass, with short and narrow bowls designed to hold small amounts of intensely flavored wines. In order to prevent the palate from being overwhelmed by sweetness, these types of wine glasses direct the wine towards the back of the mouth, where bitterness is perceived. This is the best choice for dessert and fortified wines such as Port, Sherry, and Sauternes.
There are many different types of wine glasses so matching a wine to the correct glassware can be challenging, but with the information above in mind, you’ll get the most out of every glass.