Katie’s Guide to Wine Glasses

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Last week I gave you 5 of my essential wine tools, and I thought I’d make a little series where I go into more depth on a few of those tools. Today’s post is all about wine glasses.

The photo above shows a small selection of all the glasses we have around our house and winery. WHEW! So why all the different glasses and shapes? Well, I’m going to attempt to explain the ins and outs of wine glasses and hopefully in the process I’ll help you a bit next time you go to pick out a wine glass for yourself.

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First up I’ll speak to the material that the wine glass is made from; generally this is either glass or plastic. 1 & 2 above are both made from glass, #3 is a clear plastic, and #4 is a good ‘ol plastic solo cup.  Glass can also be clear or have color to it, but I don’t own any colored glass wine glasses so I couldn’t show an example of it here.

Glass is breakable and more expensive, however it washes completely clean and does not hold old aromas or colors in it. More expensive glass can actually help bring out the aroma in the wine too.  Plastic is great for poolside, riverside, camping, or anywhere that you really don’t want broken glass (ahem, not that you really want broken glass anywhere).

I prefer clear glass and clear plastic so I can see the beautiful color in the wine (and see if there is any cloudiness – a sign there might be problems with the wine).

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Now let’s talk about what I consider the most important part of the wine glass – it’s shape. Glass #1 is actually a martini shape and is terrible for wine. See how the top/mouth is wider than the bottom of the glass? That will cause all the aroma compounds to immediately dissapate, which in turn makes it much harder to smell all those delicious aromas. And forget about swirling the wine in this glass…unless you like wine stains!

Glass #2 and #3 are much better as the mouth of the glass is as wide or narrower than the bottom of the bowl of the glass. This will help trap those aromas (and the swirling wine!) in the bowl of the glass and you’ll have an easier time smelling the wine.

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Also related to glass shape is whether the glass has a stem or not. The stem and the ‘foot’ at the bottom are nice tools to keep your hands from heating up chilled wine. You’ll also keep your fingerprints off the bowl of the glass, which helps you enjoy the wine color.  Many companies make stemless glasses too which are great if you don’t have much storage space (you can stack glasses on top of each other) or just feel too klutzy with that tall stem on the glass.

Personally, I have no preference when it comes to stem vs no stem, but this subject can inspire all sorts of passionate dissertations from wine people extolling the virtues or evils of the stem!

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One more shape related item – the two small glasses on the right are dessert glasses. Generally these are used for wines that you would typically just want a small amount to sip. Wines like port, sherry, or late harvest will often be served in these adorable miniature glasses. Again, even though these are small, the shape of the bowl is still important with a narrower top than bottom.
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You can spend a whole lot, or a very reasonable amount on wine glasses. In the photo above I’m showing a collection of all-purpose, sturdy, inexpensive wine glasses. These types of glasses can usually be purchased for $1-5 at wineries, department stores, grocery stores, wine shops, dollar stores, and/or yard sales (where you’ll probably find them even cheaper!). These are a thicker glass and therefore don’t break as easily as the finer quality wine glasses. Most of these glasses are versatile too – use them for both red and white wines.

*This glass is a champagne flute. This shape glass makes the most use of the carbonation in champagne & sparkling wines, but beware – it really shuts down the aromas and flavors of regular non-carbonated wines.

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Here is a collection of my high-quality crystal stemware. All of these glasses are made from a company called Riedel, but there are other companies that make fine quality wine glasses. Plan on paying upwards of $15-25 per stem for these bad boys. And uh, if you are a klutz like me, be careful with them! They are much thinner than their sturdy cousins and could break your heart when they crack in the dish drain.

Due to wine conferences, at one time Clyde and I owned three full sets of Reidel stemware. But then I got my hands on them and more than half have broken. :(

Each glass is made for a specific wine variety and the idea is that the glass brings out the specific characteristics of each variety. Here is the specific varietal that each glass above is made for:

  1. Norton/Cynthiana
  2. Chardonnay (stemless)
  3. Chardonnay (stemmed)
  4. Cabernet Sauvignon
  5. Sauvignon Blanc
  6. Pinot Noir (this glass holds a whopping 27 ounces of wine when filled up.  So if you can only have 1 glass of wine a day, you might invest in this one!)

These glasses above are actually the low end of the Reidel stemware line.  If we had leaded crystal, they would cost even more, however the leaded crystal is supposed to help bring out the aroma even more than the regular glass.

Here’s the secret to these expensive glasses: they have a very thin edge at the mouth of the glass.  This thin lip, combined with the shape of the mouth of the glass funnels the wine to specific areas of your tongue.  This means that when you take a sip of wine, you’ll notice it’s best qualities right off the bat.  First impressions are so important!

I’ve attempted to show the difference in this thickness in the next photo:

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Hopefully you can see that the glass on the right has a rounded lip – much thicker than the glass on the left.

So, are these glasses worth it? I can tell you from experience that they do actually make a difference in how your mouth perceives the wine.  So in that regards, yes. But you have to weigh how much they cost and how you tend to drink wine.

If you are a wine aficionado who takes wine tasting pretty seriously, then I’d say they are definitely worth your investment. However, if you are cost conscience or just don’t want the hassle of taking care of the crystal stemware, then go for a sturdier all-purpose glass.

In actuality, if the wine is good to begin with, it will hold up to any vessel you drink it from – even the red solo cup. :)

I hope you enjoyed this guide to wine glasses. Please let me know what you thought or if you have any questions in the comment section below. Cheers!

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2 Comments

  1. Gail
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Wow! That was great! Thank you for posting this. I knew a lot of it, but I appreciated having all of the information in one place. I think I’m going to borrow this for my next wine tasting party.

  2. Katie
    Posted August 30, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Your welcome! Let us know how the party goes and what people think about the different glasses. Cheers!

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