The Proper Wine Glass—Does it Make a Difference?

You’ve probably heard that various types of wines tend to show themselves best when served in the proper glass. So why, you ask, should glass size or shape make a difference in how a wine smells or tastes? Thankfully someone has done research on the subject.

Wine glassware hasn’t always been this complicated, and frankly, at some restaurants, it still isn’t. But, more and more we’re beginning to see a change at fine dining establishments, and even in personal use. Much of the credit for this goes to Claus Riedel (rhymes with “needle”), an Austrian professor who, through a series of tastings held for industry professionals, and for the wine-drinking public, successfully demonstrated that different stemware shapes and sizes are capable of bringing out nuances in the various wine varieties that were otherwise absent, or different, using other wine glasses. His stemware collection, called the “Sommelier Series,” has become the benchmark for fine wine glassware. Here’s a quick primer on what glass size and shape to use for various wines:

Bowl Shapes (the portion of the glass that holds the wine)

  • Chimney—used for both white and red wines (smaller for white; larger for red). The glass is tall, with a wider bottom that narrows slightly as it approaches the rim.
  • Balloon—used almost exclusively for pinot noir and chardonnay. The bowl is usually shorter than the chimney-shaped glass, is more exaggerated in its width at the bottom, and narrows more steeply as it approaches the rim.

Bowl and Stem Sizes (combined height of bowl and stem)

  • Short—used for whites or cordials.
  • Medium—general use for all wines.
  • Tall—generally preferred for red wines.

Riedel’s chimney-shaped stemless wine glasses were introduced relatively recently, and have been met with mixed reactions. Given that the stem’s purpose is to keep body heat from warming the bowl and therefore its contents, this design seems counterintuitive. But personally speaking, my wine doesn’t remain in the glass long enough to get warm, since I only pour three-to-four ounces at a time. Stemless glasses also are more convenient, store easily, fit snugly in the dishwasher, and are less likely to tip. On the minus side, the elegance of a stemmed wine glass can’t be disputed. It may truly come down to form versus function.

On that note, remember that it’s also beneficial not to overfill a wine glass—any wine glass. Aside from it making delicate stemware a bit unwieldy, over-filling fails to maximize the surface-to-air ratio of the wine in the glass, reducing the aromatics.

While Riedel remains the 800-pound gorilla in the industry, there are several other producers, including Bormioli and Zalto, that are making crystal stemware using Riedel’s theory. Most are available locally at various wine shops, through online suppliers, and even at Target stores.

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