The debate as to whether there is a right wine glass for a particular wine is an ongoing one. Based on the premise that a wine’s taste alters tangibly when imbibed in different glasses, wine lovers either vehemently agree or disagree, while the rest of the casual wine drinking population looks on in bewilderment.
This guide is our attempt to answer that question. In short, yes, the type of glass does matter. You need to be savvy about your stemware pairings as the shape of the glass affects how the vapours from the liquid evaporate. This process influences its bouquet, and because your olfactory senses are crucial to how you taste, the shape of the wine glass changes how you perceive the flavours of your drink.
While there is scientific backing for this phenomenon, it does not mean you need to run out and purchase specific glasses designed for exact varietals in order to maximise your enjoyment of wine. This is expensive and superfluous. A good wine should be able to speak for itself, so you really only need a handful of glass styles.
Before we delve into when to use what wine glass, some basic guidelines should be followed:
- Try to get a wine glass with a stem. While novelty tumblers or spill-free wine mugs are appealing, a stemmed wine glass is preferable as it does not allow your body heat to warm the wine when you hold it, keeping its composition and flavours intact.
- Note that while crystal (more accurately referred to as lead glass) wine glasses are usually deemed as better, it is largely up to an individual’s needs and lifestyle habits. Crystal, as opposed to glass, has more clarity but is also more expensive and a tad harder to maintain, so make your choice wisely, and don’t buy a wine glass just because of its implied luxury.
Now, on to decoding what wine glass you ought to stock your shelves with, in descending order of importance.
Characteristics: Medium to wide bowl that tapers at the rim.
To drink: Anything from Amarone to Zinfandel, even champagne.
Some stemware manufacturers have thrown their hats in the ring with the invention of a universal wine glass, suitable for whatever colour, style, or grape that composes the wine you drink. Its shape is rather similar to a Bordeaux-style red wine glass (see below). We enjoy the versatility and ease that comes with it, as having one means streamlining your glassware collection. Many sommeliers swear by universal wine glasses, especially Zalto’s hand-blown rendition, which has become a firm favourite.
Characteristics: Rounder, wider bowl with rounded sides, tapered rim.
To drink: Red wines, typically the more delicate, light and medium-bodied varietals like Pinot Noir. White wines also.
Lighter and more delicate red wines tend to be slightly lower in tannins, so a good, fishbowl-style wine glass is an ideal option. Its broad shape allows for the complex aromas found in the wine to circulate, and for its subtleties to unfurl as the ethanol within evaporates faster. The broader bowl directs the liquid to the tip of your tongue first, so that its fruiter notes can be detected, mitigating the tartness of the wine. Its wide shape is also similar to a Chardonnay glass, making this shape a pretty effective multi-tasker.
Characteristics: Medium, shorter bowl, with a slightly smaller rim than a red wine glass.
To drink: Any white wine or rosé, sparkling or still.
At the risk of generalising, white wines are typically best served chilled, and a white wine glass’ smaller bowl is perfect for maintaining lower temperatures. It also delivers more aromas due to its height, which is closer to the nose. While we’re of the belief that most white wines, especially the full-bodied and creamy ones can be properly enjoyed out of a Burgundy-style red wine glass (above), the classic white wine glass is fantastic to have as it is the ideal glass to sample sparkling wines from — the wider body helps its aromas develop better.
Characteristics: Broad, straight sides with a bowl that is smaller than a standard red wine glass’.
To drink: Full-bodied, high tannin red wines like Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots and more.
These huge, angular red wine glasses are a worthy addition to your bar if you have a penchant for robust, classic red wines that are high in tannins. While a standard red wine glass will suffice for those varietals, the broad body and tapered rim direct the wine to the back of your mouth, where its flavours are maximised. Also, the generous bowl size encourages oxidation, making sure the wine can breathe, so its aromas fully develop.
Characteristics: Thin and narrow bowl and rim.
To drink: Champagne, but you shouldn’t.
Whether flutes hinder or enhance the profile of sparkling wines is another fraught issue to tackle. Without delving too much into it, we’re of the former camp as its narrow, tulip-shaped body does not allow the sparkling wine’s nose to gain complexity as well as a white wine glass does. However, the flute is a symbol of celebration, and it is often expected when champagne is served. If you’re just in for a good time with your bubbly, this will do.
Characteristics: Short stem, small bowl that tapers to a narrow rim.
To drink: Port, sherry, other sweet digestif wines. Whiskies too.
This short glass with a narrow taper to the rim serves as a fantastic nosing glass, perfect for wines or spirits with intense aromas. The wide bowl encourages the liquid to evaporate, as the tapered rim delivers its concentrated scent profile to the nose. The copita is not necessary to have unless you’re a fan of sweet wines, or enjoying your whiskies this way.