When strolling through your favorite household supply store’s aisles, you might have realized that you can find dozens of different wine glasses. And you might know that their varying sizes and shapes don’t just exist for aesthetic reasons. Indeed, they have a culinary purpose that affects the taste and smell of wine.
WHY WINE GLASSES ARE DIFFERENT
The different shapes and sizes of wine glasses aim to create the perfect drinking experience for specific types of wine. Depending on their design, they affect the aeration, the concentration of aromas, the evaporation of alcohol, and the wine temperature. They also direct the wine to the right part of the mouth (and tongue) to create the perfect taste. In the following paragraphs, you will learn all you need to know to buy the perfect wine glass for you. We will talk about these topics:
- Wine Glass Shape
- Wine Glass Components
- Wine Glass Materials
- Red Wine Glasses
- White Wine Glasses
- Rosé Wine Glasses
- Sparkling Wine Glasses
- Dessert Wine Glasses
- Universal Wine Glasses
- Wine Glass Shopping Tips
HOW DOES GLASS SHAPE AFFECT THE WINE EXPERIENCE?
As mentioned before, the shape of a glass changes the perceived taste of wine. Here is why:
The typical balloon shape allows flavoring agents to vaporize from the wine but not to escape from the glass. So the delicate odors gather inside the bowl where you can easily sense them. And as odors are a major contributor to taste, they will alter your drinking experience significantly.
The design of wine glasses also makes it easier to swirl the wine while minimizing the risk of spoiling it. Swirling gets the wine in touch with oxygen, and the oxygen helps it release all of its aromas. So the swirling-friendly glass shape gives the wine the chance to rise to its full potential.
Another aspect of wine glass design is to direct the wine to the right area of your mouth. That is crucial because we sense different types of flavors with different parts of our tongue: We perceive sweetness with the tip, bitterness with the back, and acidity with the sides. The right glass shape will take the wine to where we can enjoy its characteristics best.
Finally, the glass shape affects the visual aesthetic of wine. Depending on the height and width of the glass, wines can showcase their characteristics, such as color, viscosity, and fizzyness, better or worse.
WHAT ARE THE COMPONENTS OF WINE GLASSES?
While the shapes and sizes can differ significantly, most glasses are made up of the same basic components:
- Rim: The rim (also: “lip” or “mouth”) of the wine glass is the very upper edge of the glass where the drinker sips from. Depending on its diameter, it can direct the wine to other parts of the mouth. So the rim makes sure that the wine hits the right taste buds. Besides the opening diameter, the rim’s thickness is another important factor. A thicker rim allows less wine to get to the tongue, while a thinner rim lets more wine in.
- Bowl: The bowl is the rounded main component of each wine glass. Most of the variation in the different styles of wine glasses is the shape of their bowls. Wines that need to breathe are typically served in wine glasses with wide bowls. The wine has a bigger surface in these glasses, so more oxygen can interact with it. Smaller bowls reduce air exposure and prevent aromas from vaporizing too quickly. Of course, the bowl volume also determines the portion size. Wines with high alcohol content, like Port or Sherry, typically come in smaller portions and, thus, in glasses with smaller bowls. The same is true for wines that are best when chilled, like sparkling wines. In b
- Stem: The stem is the handle of the wine glass. Like the bowl size, it contributes to temperature control. If wine drinkers would grab the glass by the bowl, their hands would quickly heat the wine beyond the optimal drinking temperature. A long stem allows them to grab the glass safely while keeping their hands away from the bowl. Wines that are tastier at higher temperatures often are served in glasses with short stems.
Foot: The foot is the base of the glass. Its size determines how stable the glass is. Typically the food is round and flat to provide the best possible stand. It has no impact on wine taste or temperature, though.
Stemless Wine Glasses
No matter which type of wine glass you buy, almost all of them have the components above. Stemless wine glasses are the exception. While they have a couple of advantages over regular wine glasses with stems, they also have downsides.
These are the advantages and disadvantages of stemless wine glasses:
Advantages of Stemless Wine Glasses:
- No fragile stem
- Better dishwasher fit
- Easier to store and transport
- Can be used for other beverages
Disadvantages of Stemless Wine Glasses:
- Less elegant
- Lack of temperature control
- More challenging to swirl and aerate wines properly
In summary, stemless wine glasses are more practical to handle, but they do not support temperature control and aeration of wine. So they are a trade-off between simplicity and tasting experience. Decide for yourself which matters more to you!
WHICH MATERIALS ARE WINE GLASSES MADE OF?
Gaffers use several different materials to make modern wine glasses. They differ in the effort that is necessary to process them and in cost. These are the most common materials for wine glass production:
Wine Glasses Made of Glass
Glass is the ideal material for wine glasses. It doesn’t conduct temperature easily, so it helps keep wine at the optimal temperature. It’s even possible to chill the glassware before pouring wine in.
Wine glasses made of glass are perfect for wine presentation as they allow the consumer to observe the wine, its color, and its legs in detail. Besides, they are non-porous, so it is relatively safe to clean them in the dishwasher.
Wine Glasses Made of Crystal
Crystal is a type of glass amended with lead oxide. This ingredient is famous for its high level of refraction that gives the crystal its distinctive sparkle. As crystal can be spun very thinly, it allows gaffers to produce very elegant glasses with thin rims that benefit the tasting experience.
The downsides of crystal glasses are their fragility and their price. They are not dishwasher-proof and significantly more expensive than those made of regular glass. Besides, some wine experts claim that the chemicals used in crystal production can alter the taste of wine negatively.
Wine Glasses Made of Borosilicate Glass
Borosilicate glass is a special type of glass made of boric oxide, alumina, silica sand, and soda ash. It is scratch-resistant, heat-resistant, and highly durable. The durability of borosilicate glass has made “unbreakable” wine glasses possible. So wine glasses made of borosilicate glass are the best choice for everyone who does not want to clean them by hand.
Wine Glasses Made of Plastic
Disposable plastic wine glasses are a common choice for mass events where the hosts want to reduce the risk of breakage or theft. As a wine container, plastic is a terrible material, though. It cannot shield the wine from the surrounding temperature, so that it will heat up fast. Even worse, plastic can impart very unpleasant flavors to wine and cause it to taste bland or vinegary. And obviously, plastic wine glasses are a bad choice from an ecological point of view.
WHICH WINE GLASSES GO WITH WHICH WINE?
There are hundreds of different designs for wine glasses. Most of them target one specific type of wine. However, we can sort most of them into one of the following categories:
- red wines
- white wines
- rosé wines
- sparkling wines
- dessert wines
RED WINE GLASSES
Red wine glasses are most easily recognized for their rounded, wide bowls. Typically, they are tall and wide with a bigger volume than other wine glasses. Besides, they usually have wide mouths. There are two reasons for this design:
- Aroma: A large glass opening allows the drinker to stick their nose into the glass, inhale the wine’s fragrance, and detect the more subtle notes instead of only the most robust aromas.
- Aeration: Because of the wide bowls, the wine’s surface that gets in touch with oxygen is bigger. So the design supports oxidation; it helps the wine “breathe” and open up to show all of its flavors. The bowl size also allows wine drinkers to swirl the wine to fasten the breathing process without spoiling it.
Red wine glasses come in several styles that are geared to different types of red wine, such as Bordeaux, Cabernet, or Pinot Noir. While these glasses vary slightly in design, their functionalities for red wine tasting are very similar.
for: Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec, Syrah
Bordeaux glasses are among the tallest wine glasses. Their height has a reason: Bold red wines like Bordeaux are strong in alcohol, and alcohol has a dominant smell. But due to the glass height, this alcoholic smell dissipates before it arrives at the drinker’s nose. As a result, the wine’s more pleasant aromas can stand out.
Another characteristic of a Bordeaux glass is the broad bowl. It is not as broad as other glasses’ bowls (that we will discuss later) but still offers enough space for aeration. As bold reds typically are very tannic wines, this aeration is necessary to smooth the tannins and soften the drinking experience.
Finally, the shape of the glass rim directs the wine to the back of the mouth, where the drinker can sense its full flavor spectrum.
for: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
Cabernet glasses are variations of Bordeaux glasses. They have about the same height and an equally wide bowl to allow the concentration of aromas in the glass. But their mouth is significantly more narrow to limit the air passage and thus the oxidation rate. This design helps the wine promote its complex flavors. On the other hand, it keeps the tannins rather sharp, so they can produce the mouth-drying sensation that Cabernet enthusiasts love.
When using a Cabernet glass, you have to pay attention to the portion size. Cabernet portions should be smaller than Bordeaux portions to ensure it is as fragrant as possible in the glass.
Overfilling the glass can prevent the wine from rising to its full potential. Use the glass’ widest part as a filling mark.
for: Syrah/Shiraz, Petit Shiraz
Syrah (or Shiraz) wine glasses often are similar to Cabernet glasses, but they look a little rounder. Their mouth is more narrow and tapers inward to limit the flow of oxygen even further. This design brings out the fruity aromas of Syrah wines first but allows the tannins to do their job later.
for: Red Burgundy, Barolo, Barbera, Barbaresco, Pinot Noir, Gamay, Nebbiolo, Schiava
As Burgundy wines are rather light in alcohol, the distance between the wine surface and nose isn’t essential. Logically, Burgundy glasses (also: Bourgogne glasses) are slightly smaller than Bordeaux glasses.
They also have a wider bowl to support aeration and the accumulation of Burgundy wines’ fruity aromas. The rim design sends the wine to the center of the tongue to let the drinker enjoy the perfect balance of sweet fruit flavors, acidity, and tannins.
Pinot Noir Glasses
for: Pinot Noir
A Pinot Noir glass is very similar to Burgundy glasses in shape and size and, in most cases, interchangeable. Its large bowl helps bring forward the wine’s earthy and fruity flavors. Its rim has a slightly different shape to direct the wine to the tip of the tongue where the taste buds for sweet flavors sit.
Standard Red Wine Glasses
for: Merlot, Chianti, Malbec, Zinfandel
Standard red wine glasses are all-purpose glasses. They have a moderate bowl and opening that are a good fit for most red wines. They do not support all the specific characteristics of the wines we’ve already discussed, though.
WHITE WINE GLASSES
In comparison to red wine glasses, white wine glasses have a smaller bowl. So they are designed to hold smaller portions. The reason is temperature control. The optimal serving temperature for whites is typically lower than for reds. And as it takes less time to consume a smaller portion, a smaller bowl reduces the risk that the wine gets too warm before the drinker empties the glass.
A smaller bowl also means a shorter distance between the wine surface and the nose. That makes it easier to perceive even the more subtle notes of light white wines. Especially floral aromas that you can find in many whites benefit from this design.
Another difference is the diameter of the mouth. White wine glasses have a more narrow opening than glasses for reds. This design allows white wine to release its aromas slowly while reducing the airflow to prevent over-oxidation.
Along with red wine glasses, white wine glasses are great to have in your wine cellar or home bar. Even though they are designed for white wines, many other types of wine, such as rosé, can be drunk in a white wine glass.
Sauvignon Blanc Glasses
for: Sauvignon Blanc, White Bordeaux, Vinho Verde, Muscadet, Pinot Grigio
Sauvignon Blanc glasses are the tallest among the white wine glasses. They have a narrow bowl that tapers towards the opening, giving it a tulip shape. This form reduces the aeration to keep the wine fresh and prevent over-oxidizing it. At the same time, it provides enough space for the fruity and floral aromas to gather inside the bowl and make their way to the drinker’s nose.
for: Chardonnay, Semillon, Viognier
Chardonnay wine glasses are slightly smaller than Sauvignon Blanc glasses, especially their bowls. They are also rounder to allow airflow but not too much, so it doesn’t over-oxidize. The glass directs the wine to the tip and the sides of the tongue to balance out the sweet and acidic notes that the drinker perceives.
for: Riesling (sweet), Gewürztraminer, White Zinfandel
Riesling glasses are overall smaller than Sauvignon or Chardonnay glasses. They have a narrow, tapered bowl that concentrates the fruity aromas of sweet whites. The narrow opening limits the oxygen flow. It also guides the wine to the back of the palate to avoid overpowering the drinker with its sweetness. The long stem supports temperature control by creating a significant distance between the wine and the hand.
Riesling glasses are a good match for most types of white wines. So if you are looking for an all-purpose white wine glass, Riesling glasses are the right pick.
ROSÉ WINE GLASSES
for: rosé wines, young and light white wines
Rosé wine often ends up in either a red wine glass or a white wine glass since its color and taste falls somewhere in the middle of red and white. But you can glasses that were designed to serve the specific flavor profile of rosé wines.
Typically, rosé glasses have a shape similar to champagne flutes. But there are some key differences: Rosé glasses have a wider bowl, resulting in a rounded diamond shape. This form increases the surface area of the wine in the glass, leading to higher evaporation of alcohol. While the alcohol odors disappear from the glass, the silky fruit and flower flavors stay inside, creating a smoother overall experience.
The narrow opening helps send these aromas to the drinker’s nose. In some cases, the rim is flared to direct the wine to the tip of the tongue that is most sensitive to sweetness. So, in summary, this design supports the floral and fruity character of rosé wines.
SPARKLING WINE GLASSES
Sparkling wines have very special characteristics that require special glasses. The most obvious is their fizzyness. Their sparkling bubbles make the drinking experience absolutely unique. But as soon as the fizzy sensation disappears, they taste dull.
Another important fact is that sparkling wines are most delicious when they are chilled. When they get warm, they rapidly lose their pleasant aromas as well as their fizzyness.
To support their characteristics, sparkling wine glasses are tall and narrow. Their long bodies limit the exposure to air to a minimum, so the wine keeps its fresh flavors and cool temperature. As the carbon dioxide has to go a long way to escape from the glass, this design also preserves the fizzyness for a long time.
for: all sparkling and semi-sparkling wines
Champagne flutes are the most common sparkling wine glass. They feature an elongated bowl with a small base and a narrow opening at the rim. This tall shape of the glass accentuates the flowing bubbles trailing up through the drink.
The small opening of the Champagne flute prevents CO2 from escaping the glass. As a result, the sparkling wine stays fizzy and fresh longer.
The long stem contributes to keeping the wine fresh, too. It creates a big distance between the bowl and the drinker’s warm hand. So it helps control the sparkling wine’s temperature.
for: All Types of Sparkling and Semi-Sparkling Wines
A popular alternative to traditional Champagne flutes is a tulip-shaped glass. It is tall and narrow as well but has a slightly wider bowl. This design allows the wine’s aromas to shine more, but it also increases the rate at which the fizzyness disappears slightly.
Vintage Coupe Glasses
for: Sparkling Wine Cocktails
Coupe glasses look very different from flutes or tulip-shaped sparkling wine glasses. They have a very broad bowl and a similarly wide opening but a rather short stem. Many people consider this look elegant or fancy, and actually, their primary purpose is exactly that.
In terms of functionality, Coupe glasses are not ideal, though. The sparkling wine has a big surface that gets in contact with air and will oxidize at a very high rate. So, the glass shape promotes the volatilization of CO2 instead of preventing it. And it also let the wine warm up quickly.
Due to their design, it is difficult to hold Coupe glasses by their stem. It is more common to grab them by the bowl. But with the drinker’s hand so close to the wine, it will warm up even faster.
If you want to highlight your sparkling wine’s aromas and the fizzyness, you should stay away from Coupe glasses. But in case you want to provide a visual highlight, they are the right choice, especially if you are going to build a pyramid. They are also acceptable for cocktails based on sparkling wine.
DESSERT WINE GLASSES
Dessert wines are extremely sweet and, in many cases, also strong in alcohol. For many wine lovers, these traits are enjoyable as a digestif, but only in small portions.
As a logical consequence, dessert wine glasses have much smaller bowls than other types of wine glasses. Besides, their mouths are more narrow to prevent over-oxidation so that the wine will stay enjoyable even during an extensive post-dinner conversation with occasional sips.
The third characteristic of a dessert wine glass is its short stem. A long stem would make the glass unstable and increase the risk of tipping it over. The fact that short stems force the drinker to hold the glass closer to the bowl isn’t a problem, though.
As most dessert wines are best when served at room temperature, the hand’s heat is a minor issue.
Port Wine Glasses
for: Port, Madeira, Commandaria
Port wines, especially old styles, are some of the sweetest wines you can find. The matching glass for this fortified wine has a similar shape to a Bordeaux glass, but it is much smaller. Compared to other dessert wine glasses, its bowl is rather broad, so it provides enough space for swirling the wine. In combination with the narrow opening, it also supports the concentration of aromas without letting them evaporate too quickly.
for: Sherry, Vermouth, Commandaria
Like Port glasses, Sherry wine glasses have a small volume. Typically, they have a pear shape: The lower part of the bowl is round and rather broad. But the upper part and the opening are narrow like a flute-shaped Champagne glass.
The flared rim guides the wine to the back of the mouth, so its sweetness does not overwhelm the drinker.
In comparison to Port wine glasses, the stem of a Sherry glass is relatively long.
You might find other designs that look like small Rosé glasses or short sparkling wine tulips.
Sauternes Wine Glasses
for: Sauternes, Tokaji, Ice Wine
Sauternes is a sweet dessert wine from the French Bordeaux region. A Sauternes glass has an extraordinary shape. Its bowl is curved, but unlike many other wine glasses, its upper part is wider than the lower part.
The purpose of this form is to emphasize the typical apricot aromas of Sauternes wines. It also helps balance the wine’s sweetness with its subtle acidity.
UNIVERSAL WINE GLASSES
Universal wine glasses (also: utility or all-purpose wine glasses) are designed to work with a wide variety of wines. They cannot accentuate the characteristics of specific wines as well as the matching glasses. But They provide a good baseline experience for both red and white wines.
Typically their size is somewhere in between a red wine glass and a Chardonnay glass. In any case, a long stem is a must-have.
For casual wine drinkers, universal glasses are an acceptable alternative. But if you want to enjoy the full potential of your favorite wine, you should go for the glasses that were made for it.
For sparkling wines, universal glasses aren’t the right pick whatsoever.
WINE GLASS SHOPPING TIPS
Regardless of which type of wine you commonly drink, there are a couple of things to have in mind when shopping wine glasses:
- Preferences vs. Experiences: If you have a preference for a specific type of wine and do not let others into your cellar, it makes perfect sense to buy matching glasses for that wine. But if you tend to try new wines regularly, you better go for universal glasses.
- Clear Glass vs. Decorated Glass: Some wine glasses, especially those made from crystal glass, are richly decorated with engravings, graphic patterns, or various colors. While these glasses are a visual highlight, they have a downside: They make it hard to monitor the wine inside. If you are willing to waive this aspect, decorated glasses might be the right choice for you. But for the complete wine experience, go for clear glasses.
- Dishwasher vs. Manual Cleaning: Wine glasses are fragile, especially when made from crystal glass. Cleaning them in the dishwasher is risky, and you might end up with a pile of broken glass. So before making a purchase, make sure that the wine glasses of your choice are dishwasher-proof – or commit yourself to cleaning them by hand.
- Have one or two extra: It is always a good idea to buy a couple of extra glasses of any given set just to put aside in case of breakage. That way, you can replace the broken one immediately.
- The Right Glass for the Right Occasion: Many people own glasses of different materials to use, whatever one is suitable for the occasion. Owning a set of fine crystal glasses has historically been a mark of high class and distinction, and until today, wine lovers break out the crystal glasses for more formal affairs. For everyday use and casual gatherings with friends, wine glasses made from glass are the better pick.
- The Right Price: Weigh the cost of the glasses carefully against the occasion you buy them for. Is it worth the expense of using a fancy crystal when the wine will taste just as good out of table glass? Again, take fragility into consideration: Breaking a glass worth 50 USD is more painful than one that costs only 10 USD.
It might sound weird to people who are new to the world of wine, but wine tastes different depending on the glass it comes from. For the best wine experience, the right glass is vital. With the information in this article, you are well prepared to find the perfect glassware for you. Test for yourself if you can sense the difference.
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