Choosing the right wine glasses should be a simple matter, because there are really only a handful of considerations to take into account. But as with anything, the decision process can get complicated due to an over-abundance of choice. Small glasses, large glasses, exotically shaped glasses, coloured glasses, all of them seem like they will serve the task of being drunk out of just fine. But wine isn’t just a beverage – it’s also an opportunity to exercise all of your senses.
In high-school you have probably learned about the five major senses of sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. A complete wine experience will engage at least four of them. You observe the wine, take in the aromas, taste the flavours and feel the texture on your palate. Those more poetically inclined may talk wistfully about the sound of a cork popping open, the fizz of Champagne bubbles or the clinking of glasses.
I had briefly touched upon a few important points in a previous article, but here are my considerations in detail.
When you first face a wine, you use your eyes. You observe what is within the glass for colour, sediment, bubbles or faults. In order to do this properly it’s important that there is nothing to distract you from this task.
For example, a coffee mug is a no-go, being opaque and not allowing light to shine through. Coloured glasses and colourful designs should likewise be avoided, as they would either be distracting or alter the perceived colour of the wine. Finally, there should be no crystalline or prismatic designs, which seems to be a popular option among goblets. Simple, transparent glass is all you need.
The important thing about a glass’s shape is that it will allow you to manipulate the wine without risk of spilling. You should be able to tilt and swirl the glass with confidence. It’s widest point should be between the base and the middle, not at the top. So definitely no Martini glasses – the classic tear-drop shape with the top cut off will suffice.
I’ve become a fan of stemless wine glasses, as they seem to be appropriate for anything from soft drinks to whisky. A long stem does serve a function however – as a wine warms up it releases more aromatics, and the stem gives you the option of moderating your hand’s body heat away from the wine.
Sparkling wines are a special exception – you want them tall and thin to better observe the bubbles. Bubbles can only form on the surface of the glass, and the smaller surface area on the bottom of the champagne flute should ensure the bubbles continue to form for a long time.
There are some gigantic glasses on offer out there and I have the privilege of owning a few, some of them larger than my fists. The claim is that the larger the glass, the more of the aromas are captured. Some are practically large enough to fit an entire bottle’s worth of wine.
However I personally find this effect to be minor, and past a certain point the size of the glass merely becomes a distraction. Are you observing the wine or the glass? Are you admiring the painting or the picture frame?
There are also practical considerations – smaller and more modestly sized glassware will be easier to clean by hand or fit into a dishwasher.
It’s difficult to give a precise size recommendation – I don’t want you to go around shopping with a tape measure. If you go back and read my previous wine reviews, the attached images should give you a good benchmark. The bowl portion is tear-drop-shaped, about the same diameter and 2/5ths the height of a regular bottle of wine.
In The Restaurant
The practicality of the above considerations becomes more evident when you are in a restaurant. You order a wine, the sommelier pours you a measure for tasting, and it’s your job to pick out if the wine is acceptable or faulty.
If the glass isn’t clear, you can’t see the wine. If the glass is the wrong shape, you can’t swirl properly to bring out the aromas. If it is ridiculously bulbous there’s a chance you might elbow the glass accidentally and have to pay for damages.
But if everything is in order, the process is simple. Tilt the glass, observe there’s no sediment or fault with the colour. Swirl and bring the glass to your nose. With a small movement, take the glass to your lips and have a small sip. Observe the aromas and flavours. If there are no major faults, then you should expect to have a good evening.
I recommended having on hand a half-dozen of regular wine glasses for still wines and another half-dozen of champagne flutes for sparkling wines. Having a few extra on hand will cover those occasions where you have friends over, accidentally break a glass or want to do a multiple tasting for your own enjoyment. These glasses will also serve all practical purposes whether you are drinking red, white, rosé, sparkling, dessert or fortified wines.
For cleaning, get a microfibre cloth – this is more important for when you have just had red wines, as they are more likely to stain the glasses slightly after use. If the glasses are of a modest enough size you should be able to clean them easily by hand.
Ultimately, the above are more rules rather than guidelines – who am I to dictate from what vessel you can enjoy your wine? But I hope I have managed to illustrate that there are pragmatic and rational reasons for using proper glassware, not because we are sticking rigidly to an outdated tradition, but to create an enhanced wine experience.
PS – Now that you have the proper glassware, what wines should you fill them up with? Get a Personal Wine Consultation to find the best wines for you today.
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