Wine Glass Basics

Wine GlassesWine glasses are a topic of moderate controversy among various beverage connoisseurs. One wine drinker may insist that the shape of your wine glass matters a great deal, while another might feel that it doesn’t make a significant difference. Some avid wine enthusiasts would argue – perhaps pedantically – that each type of wine tastes better when served in a very specific type of glass matched to the qualities of the wine in question, but most home budgets can’t afford to keep over two dozen different types of wine glasses at the ready, and that’s not to mention the cabinet space that that would require. However, there are some generally accepted rules about what sorts of glasses to use in most everyday wine situations, and having a few different styles on hand should keep you well covered to properly serve just about any type of wine.

The easiest way to cover your bases when picking out your wine glasses is to consider the primary groups of commonly served wines: reds, whites, champagne, and dessert wines. Each group has various different types of glass depending on which particular variety of wine that you are serving (cabernet, pinot noir, chardonnay, etc.), but distinguishing between the major groups is the most important (and realistic) factor when stocking your cabinets. It can often be difficult to predict exactly what sorts of wine that you will have on hand at any given time, and purchasing every different type of glass will likely be excessive and unnecessary for most restaurants and households. Here are a few guidelines to consider when shopping for wine glasses.

  • Red Wine: Red wine glasses are typically known for their wide, round bowl. The more delicate flavors and aromas of red wine are believed to be enhanced during oxidation – a reaction that occurs when the wine is exposed to air. The wider and more open shape of most red wine glasses increases the rate of oxidization by constantly exposing a larger surface area of wine to the air. The wider bowl and larger opening also allows plenty of room for the nose, enabling the drinker to more easily detect the complex aromas and flavors of the wine. Red wine glasses generally come in two styles: Bordeaux and Burgundy glasses. Bordeaux glasses have a slightly more narrow shape that directs the wine to the back of the mouth – perfect for use with bold, full-bodied wines such as Cabernet, Syrah, and Malbec that have deep, developed flavors. Burgundy glasses, on the other hand, are designed for more delicate red wines such as Pinot Noir, as their broader bowls direct the lighter flavors to the tip of the tongue.
  • White Wine: White wine glasses tend to feature a taller bowl than red wine glasses. The tall, narrow shape of white wine glasses reduces the surface area of wine that will be exposed to the air. This lowers the amount of heat that is transferred in from the surrounding air and keeps your white wine cool for a longer period of time. White wine glasses come in a variety of different shapes and sizes, but they are almost always recognizable by their characteristically tall design. The same rules apply to white wine glasses as apply to the red wine glasses above: wider glasses to direct younger, more delicate wines to the front and sides of the mouth, and narrower glasses to direct bolder, more mature wines to the back of the mouth.
  • Sparkling Wine/Champagne: Champagne and other sparkling wines are usually served in especially tall, upright glasses (often called “flutes”) that capture the flavor of the beverage and preserve the carbonation by reducing the amount of surface area exposed at the opening of the glass. The more traditional champagne coupe glass is sometimes used to serve champagne, especially when building champagne towers at weddings and other large social events.
  • Dessert Wine: Dessert wine is usually served in a smaller glass. Because most dessert wines tend to be very sweet, the specific type of glass does not matter quite as much, but many people prefer somewhat narrower glasses that will direct the wine quickly to the back of the mouth to avoid overwhelming the palette with sweetness. Dessert wines also tend to have higher alcohol content than their more savory counterparts, and are best served in smaller glasses to better suit a small serving size. By the same token, fortified wines such as sherry are also best served in smaller glasses.
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