Choosing Your Wine Glasses: Do Shapes Really Matter?

October 25, 2012No comments

Try your own taste test. Pour some chardonnay in a champagne flute and pour some more in wide-bowled wine glass and compare. Your nose does know better and the bigger bowl helps you smell and taste the wine. “That’s because the depth of the bowl and curve of the rim change the amount of air exposure and enhance or mute flavors,” says Maximilian Reidel, CEO of Riedel Crystal North America.

Assortment of wine glasses

The shape of the wine glass truly matters. Zwiesel Tritan Glassware pictured.

Shapes: It’s all about the Curve So how many shapes of wine glasses are there? Glass blowers and manufacturers all over the world make dozens of wine glass categories and hundreds of styles. For wine collectors and connoisseurs, each type of wine deserves it own glass shape for maximum drinkability. If you are just starting to build a wine glass selection, where do you start? The Winedoctor suggests starting with three shapes: “a standard glass for whites, something a little larger for reds, and of course a flute or similar style for Champagne or sparking wine.” In a recent article in USA Weekend, author Kara Chiles suggests four basic types of wine glasses to have on hand.

  • a glass for white wine,
  • a glass for Burgundy,
  • a glass for Bordeaux, and
  • a Champagne flute.

If you primarily drink one type of red wine, one red wine glass will do. The white wine glass is usually a bit smaller and narrower to help the wine stay cold, but still allow some breath-ability across the surface of the wine. The red glasses are much larger to allow a lot more air to “open up” the wine as it sits in the glass. Red wine glasses also have fatter shaped bowls for that purpose and to allow the nose to smell the aromatic qualities of the wine. Champagne or sparking wine is a whole other story with carbonation giving this wine it’s desired characteristic. The best glass to concentrate the bubbles while drinking is a narrow flute. You can drink champagne out of Mason jar if you really want to; it’s just that the bubbles will dissipate faster the more open the drinking vessel.

Yellow table setting with Zwiesel Wine Glasses

These wine glasses from Zwiesel have smaller bowls and tighter openings to keep the wine cool.

Hand-blown Glass: Leaded or Unleaded? Hand-blown glasses are special but also more expensive than machined glass. Hand-blown glass is definitely an art, and you can watch how a wine glass is blown and finished at the Reidel factory in Austria.

I live with a wine collector, and we don’t own a hand-blown glass because we use and break our glasses so much. If you can afford them, they are a beautiful way to enhance the wine experience. If you find the price exorbitant, there are many options available both online, in wine shops and even in big box retailers where they sell kitchen wares. What about leaded crystal? Historically, the best glass in the world was manufactured from leaded glass. The lead helped with the hardness and clarity of the glass. Leaded glass is traditionally thicker than the desired thinner wine glass of today’s collectors. These days we know better than to store wine or liquor in leaded glass containers.  Some glasses are still made from leaded crystal, and for the short period of time that we drink out of a glass, it shouldn’t be a problem. There are now several other types of glass manufactured that use non-toxic additives, such as Boron and Titanium, to add to the brilliance and strength to the glass.

Stem or No Stem? A trend started a few years ago to incorporate stem-less glasses into our collections. Often times when we are in Europe or South America, we are served wine in standard short glass without a stem. The stem is there for reason, says the Winedoctor. “Holding by the stem ensures that warmth from the hand does not increase the temperature of the wine.” He noted that it also keeps the wine glass bowl from getting covered with greasy fingerprints.

Stemless wine glasses and decanter

Stemless glasses offer a unique spin on wine glassware. However, stems serve an important purpose of preserving the wine’s temperature. Crate & Barrel Stemless Wine Glass pictured.


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