When it comes to wine glasses, the amount of options to choose from can seem overwhelming to the average wine lover. How do you know which is the right wine glass for you? And is it really necessary to have a different type of wine glass for the various styles of wine you enjoy?
Truthfully, no, it’s not completely necessary. You can drink wine out of any type of glass your heart desires. However, it’s also true certain wine glasses perform better with specific types of wine. So, while special glassware may not be essential, the right wine glasses can enhance your enjoyment of the wine at hand.
Let’s explore the science behind glassware’s impact on the wine. Then we’ll look at which types of wine glasses work best for particular wine styles.
The Science of Proper Glassware
Believe it or not, people have actually taken the time to study how wine glasses influence your perception of wine. Early theories espoused the shape of the wine glass directs wine to various areas on your palate each time you take a sip. Depending on where the wine hits your tongue, you perceive its characteristics differently. This theory was based on the origins of taste tongue-map depicted by German scientist David P. Hänig in 1901. Hänig determined we receive sweet tastes at the tip of our tongue and salty tastes on the sides of our tongue near the tip. Sour tastes are perceived on the sides of our tongue near the back and bitter tastes on the back of our tongue.
Seemingly, depending on where a glass delivers wine to your palate, you would perceive certain characteristics of the wine more directly; i.e. bitter tannins, acidity, sweetness, or sweet fruit flavors. However, this theory was completely debunked. More recently, researchers uncovered all areas of the mouth containing tastebuds are sensitive to all taste qualities. In other words, individual taste characteristics are not restricted to specific parts of the tongue.
So, if it’s not due to taste, how do wine glasses influence our wine tasting experience? Yale neuroscientist Gordon Shepherd wrote a whole book on the matter entitled Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine. In his book, Shepherd concludes our sense of smell plays a larger role in how we taste wine. He says, “Taste as a sensory system actually plays a limited role in wine taste.”
Therefore, different shapes of glassware impact how you perceive aromas.
How Wine Glasses Influence Aromas
To illustrate this idea, a Japanese study used a thermal-imaging “sniffer-camera” to capture how various glasses impact ethanol vaporization from wine. They utilized the same 13°C red wine within a straight drinking glass, a martini-style cocktail glass, and a standard red wine glass. The latter of which directed the ethanol vapors upwards in a concentrated ring formation. In other words, a wine glass best delivers ethanol vapors directly to your nose when you smell a wine.
Why does it matter how we perceive ethanol vapors? Because these vapors carry aromatic compounds from the wine to our nose. Then, our olfactory sensory receptors basically determine how we perceive the wine. One of the most influential factors on aroma perception seems to be the ratio between the maximum diameter of a wine glass and the diameter of the glass’ opening.
Generally, a wider opening can deemphasize overpowering aromas. Whereas a narrower opening helps concentrate more subtle aromas.
Wine Folly does a great job at breaking down different aroma compounds here.
The Best Wine Glasses for Various Styles of Wine
Keeping the above in mind, we can generally conclude full-bodied, higher alcohol wines are more suitable to big-bowled glasses with wider openings. For wines with higher alcohol, a wider opening and larger bowl means a greater amount of wine is in contact with oxygen. This helps evaporate ethanol vapors, thus distributing aromas. For red wines, this greater introduction to air releases many of their complex, volatile compounds and softens tannins.
Whereas light to medium bodied white wine and rosé generally does best in wine glasses with less curved bowls and narrower openings, which help direct the wine’s aromas to your senses. These wines typically have less ethanol to evaporate and disperse.
White Wine Glasses
If you are so inclined to purchase a variety of wine glasses, you can get away with having only two types of glassware for white wine.
Light-to-Medium-Bodied White Wine
For your light to medium bodied white wines, select a wine glass with a smaller bowl and narrower opening like the two pictured here. Most of your white wines can be successfully served in these smaller glasses to preserve floral aromas, better maintain cooler serving temperatures, and deliver more aromas to your nose.
This style of glassware is ideal for wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Pinot Grigio, Vermentino, Riesling, etc. and most rosé.
Full-Bodied White Wine
Serve full-bodied white wines in wine glasses with a large bowl and a wider opening. These glasses support the creamy texture and full-bodied mouthfeel of the wine. They also help concentrate less obvious aromas as they allow for more ethanol evaporation. RIEDEL first created big-bowled white wine glasses like this and named the style Montrachet, hinting at the types of wine ideal for this glass.
Use this wine glass for full-bodied Chardonnay (like Montrachet!), Viognier, white Rioja, white Rhône blends (Marsanne/Roussanne), South African Chenin Blanc, etc.
Consider Stem Length
You might notice most white wine glasses have longer stems compared to red wine glasses. This is intended to create a greater distance between your hand and the bowl of the glass, helping to keep the wine cool.
Red Wine Glasses
While there are several red wine glasses available for purchase, just three different shapes allow you to cover all of your red wine bases.
Full-Bodied Red Wines with High Tannins
For this style of wine, you’ll want what’s known as a Bordeaux glass. The length of these glasses creates more space between your nose and the wine. Consequently, this allows for a flow of ethanol vapors to move past your nose so you can experience more of the wines aromatic compounds and less of the higher levels of alcohol. Whereas the larger size of the bowl fosters ethanol evaporation. The wider opening of the wine glass also allows for the wine to flow more evenly onto your palate to experience the full-bodied sensation.
This style of glassware is ideal for Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petite Sirah, etc.
Medium-to-Full-Bodied Red Wines with Savory or Spicy Characteristics
This style of wine calls for a medium-bodied glass, which is smaller than a Bordeaux glass with a smaller bowl and slightly narrower opening. It’s more of a standard red wine glass which keeps more ethanol vapors within the glass while softening some of the red wine’s characteristics. Savory or spicy flavors will be introduced to your palate more progressively from the narrower opening.
Use this wine glass for red wines like Syrah, Malbec, Zinfandel, etc
Light-Bodied or More Delicate Reds
For light-bodied or delicate reds, look to the Burgundy glass. This wine glass has a wider bowl which curves into a relatively wide opening, which is smaller than the diameter of the bowl. The shape allows for aromatic concentration, ethanol evaporation, and encourages the wine to run over the palate.
Burgundy glasses are ideal for red Burgundy, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Gamay, Schiava, Freisa, etc.
Champagne or Sparkling Wine Glasses
There are a few schools of thought related to the ideal glassware for sparkling wines. One says the traditional Champagne flute works best, as the lengthened shape of the flute directs the wine’s bubbles upwards, distributing aromas directly to your nose. Flutes are ideal for Brut, Extra Brut, Brut Nature or bone-dry styles of sparkling wine.
A second school of thought dictates all sparkling wines should be served in tulip or wide-tulip shaped glasses because they collect more aromatics with the wider bowl. Thus, these glasses could be best for aromatic, fruity styles of sparkling wine (and for rosé, too).
Finally, you could go old-school and sip your sparklers from a vintage coupe glass. Bubbles disperse more rapidly with this shape, perhaps making the wine perceptibly softer and fruitier.
Other Wine Glasses to Consider
ISO Tasting Glass
The ISO tasting glass is a standardized wine glass which helps the taster measure various aspects of wine to the best extent. They allow the wine to be swirled easily and the rim is designed to enhance and retain aromas.
Dessert Wine Glasses
If you drink a lot of Port or Sherry, you might consider purchasing the applicable glassware for either wine. Since these wines are higher in alcohol by nature, the small size of this glassware is ideal for the proper serving size. While the smaller opening prevents their characteristic high alcohol from evaporating.
First and foremost, consider your budget. If you can’t afford to spend money on different types of wine glasses (or if you’d rather spend that money on wine), then don’t worry about it! A standard red wine and white wine glass will do.
If you’re going to dish out the cash for costly stemware, be prepared for the maintenance. Finer glassware also requires finer care, i.e. handwashing and drying. These RIEDEL microfiber polishing cloths do wonders for removing any water spots.
RIEDEL and Zalto are two leading brands for specialty wine glasses, but be prepared to drop some serious cash. Alternatively, you could make your life simpler and purchase these beautiful StandArt Universal Wine Glasses by Gabriel-Glas.