Recent studies have shown that people are actually less happy when presented with more choices. Anyone who has stood paralyzed before the cereal aisle can attest to the truth in this statement. Do you want fiber-rich shredded wheat squares or organic-O’s or gluten-free chia seed granola? If the idea of picking out the right wine glass for the right wine makes your palms sweat, read below. Yes, you can transform from a one-glass-fits all beginner into a sophisticated host that knows which stemware will really set off that hard-earned bottle of malbec without becoming a crazed stresscase. It’s really much easier than the wine elite would lead you to believe. All it takes is a bit of scientific understanding. Now, breathe with me…
Why So Many Different Wine Glass Sizes?
Think of it this way: wine is a complex mixture of aroma, flavor, and viscosity. No two wines are exactly alike, and that’s why the glass matters so much. In order to enjoy “full flavor potential” in your favorite bottle, it’s important to note the size and shape of the bowl of your glass, which features vast variation from red to white. The bowl’s purpose is simple: to offer up a suitable amount of surface area—never too much or too little. The stem, in tandem, helps to direct the wine to the optimum place in your mouth for the best enjoyment. Ever wonder why a champagne flute boasts a narrow, tulip-like silhouette? The shape is designed to retain your bubbly’s bubbles longer. Every wonder why dessert wines are served in shorter, smaller vessels? The stunted design helps to direct wine to the back of the mouth, so that the sugary flavor won’t overwhelm your palate. When you consider just how intricately a wine glass works alongside the wine to deliver the best flavor, a whole new world of deliciousness opens up. Let’s jump in!
Red Wine Glasses
You probably already know that red wine = larger glass, but there’s actually a bit more to it than that. There is a slight variation in bowl sizes within the red wine glass realm, but as a general rule, the bowls are on the larger and rounder edge of the spectrum. Why? This spherical shape allows more room for your nose to fit through, as you will be picking up more robust aromas in reds than whites. These wider bowls also allow for more air contact with the wine, and as we
all know from the need to swirl before sipping, a boost of fresh oxygen helps to “open up” a heavy glass of syrah. When pouring a bottle of cabernet sauvignon or merlot, consider using a Bordeaux glass, which has a taller stem and features a slightly smaller bowl when compared to a standard red wine glasses. The height brings the wine to the back of the mouth in an effort to coax out those bigger flavors. A burgundy glass is great for lighter, full-bodied wines like pinot noir and features a slightly shorter stem and a larger bowl, perfect for picking up those delicate, subtle nuances.
White Wine Glasses
White wine glasses don’t just feature smaller bowls, they’re also an entirely different shape. The variety’s U-shaped bowls aren’t just pretty to look at, they allow aromas to be easily released into the air around your nose while maintaining a cooler overall temperature (warm wine is a no-no). The biggest difference between whites and reds is the presence of grape skin during fermentation process: whites are traditionally fermented with little to no contact with the skin, producing dramatically lighter tannins as well as hue (tannins are the drying compounds that make you feel like you’ve been sucking on a walnut). For this reason, younger and sweeter whites should be poured into slightly larger white wine bowl, allowing the liquid to move effortlessly to the tip and sides of the tongue. Older, more substantial whites should be poured into the tallest white wine glass you can find, allowing the flavors to move directly to the back and sides of the tongue, where weightier flavors are best savored.
Note: Pouring a white wine into a red wine glass isn’t going to be as detrimental as doing the reverse. With heavier body, tannins, and exaggerated flavor compounds, red wine will show as a pale shadow of its true self when poured into a smaller glass designed for a delicate white.
What? There’s a damn glass for rosé, too? I can already hear the chorus of annoyed wine drinkers out there. Just hear me out. We can all agree that rosé, normally fermented with the skins of the grape for a short period, is its own unique animal. With their milder tannins and higher acidity, these blush-colored offerings need special consideration, and it certainly makes a world of difference to give them their own platform to shine. There are two kinds of rosé glasses out there: glasses with a slight inward taper at the top of the bowl and those with an outward flare. All rosé glasses feature generally shorter bowls and stems, as the wine plays nicely on the front of the palate. For crisper, younger wines, go with the flared lip, as this will allow the wine to hit the tip of the tongue, where your sweet-seeking tastebuds are located (this also minimizes getting too much “bite”). More mature and full-bodied rosés will do well in a glass with a slightly outward tapered bowl, diverting the liquid a tad farther back on the tongue. Have neither kind of rosé glass on hand? Reach for any white wine glass, which will get you pretty good results.
Color & Thickness
How many times have you considered the color and clarity of your wine? Now, how many times have you applied the same thought to your wine glass? Believe it or not, wine glass color matters. Throw foggy, blemished glasses in the trash and use only translucent, clear specimens that allow the ruby red or gorgeous straw-colored wine to shine through. Rim thickness may feel like an afterthought, but think again. A good rule of thumb: The thinner the rim, the less the glass will distract you from what you’re actually doing—enjoying fine wine! Cheap stemware dulls senses, so splurge on a few great wine glasses for years of pleasure (Riedel is an excellent, affordable pick). Yes, you may be able to hide the price tag on a dollar store wine glass, but everyone knows the feeling of sipping from an unappealing, thick or even scratchy rim. Just ask yourself this question: “Why put an extra millimeter of glass between you and your precious vino?”
Don’t Forget the Stem
It’s easy to forget about the stem—or absence of one. However, it’s good to remember just why wine glasses have their elegant, wand-like handles. Anyone who has left a great bottle of pinot noir in a hot car can attest to the sad fact that temperature changes the flavor of wine, many times for the worse. Drinking a glass of refrigerated chardonnay with a stemless glass may look modern and hip, but remember that your fingers are very good at transferring heat to a thin glass bowl. Considering the fact that good wine is made to be “sipped,” not “chugged,” your so-called-chilled glass of white may soar way past the lukewarm mark in just 30 minutes time. If you really love these glasses (and how easy they are to pop in the dishwasher), by all means, use them. Just know that reds are a better pick, as they won’t be as affected by the rise in temperature from cellar to hand.
A Standard Wine Glass
Yes, all-purpose wine glasses do exist and they are awesome for their price and convenience. You probably aren’t going to get that “ultra-perfect” sip, but you aren’t going to mess with the flavor too much either. It’s a win win, if you ask me, and far better than using the wrong glass. Look for a bowl that hits between a white and red size and just say no to glasses covered in decorative junk. Just like a really great pair of jeans, a one-occasion-fits-all glass can be a life (and time) saver when you’re a worldly wine lover on the go. Just remember to take care of your glasses and they will take very good care of your mouth for years to come.
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