One of my pet peeves when going out drinking is seeing wine glasses filled almost to the brim. There are usually two reasons for this – the inadequately small size of glasses provided by some establishments, and the greediness of the consumer.
The ideal wine glass should be transparent, have a long stem and a large bowl. Of course the glass needs to be transparent to better observe the wine. A long stem allows you to moderate the distance of your hand to the wine, keeping your body heat away. And a large bowl allows one to swirl the wine more vigorously, increasing the surface area of wine exposed to air and allowing the aromas to emerge and build up within.
Transparency is almost a given, and thankfully there are only a handful of examples on the market with gaudy, distracting designs. The image of wine glasses with long stems has been imprinted heavily on the public consciousness, so there is no trouble here as producers will aim to meet this expectation. The only question remaining is the size of the bowl. A large-bowled glass needs to be correspondingly delicate with thin glass walls. This isn’t merely for aesthetic reasons – imagine if large wine glasses had the same wall thickness as wine bottles and how much weight one would need to support with one hand. Try holding even an empty wine bottle in one hand and gently rotating your wrist and you will have an idea of how important weight considerations are.
Conversely, smaller glasses can afford to be more heavy-set, and thus more durable. The difference of course is its reduced capacity, smaller surface area and less aromas captured. Fortunately in most cases this is not an intolerable problem, and only a matter of being more conservative with pours. Two sips of wine are not necessarily more delicious than one.
It is unfortunate but understandable why some venues would prefer to stock smaller stemware – proper glassware is an expense that needs to be balance with the costs of doing business. Large glasses take up space and are inherently fragile, while smaller glasses are easier to store and more sturdy. Whatever the business owner decides to stock, the onus is now on the consumer to adapt and act accordingly.
The trouble is when people adapt in the wrong direction. Perhaps they are used to large glasses and three-second pours, so they perform the same ritual with smaller glasses and are left with something that is difficult to swirl without spilling out. The only other explanation is greed, thinking that more wine is better to compensate for a smaller vessel.
While there are few rules for the consumer in the world of wine, my personal guideline is to fill the glass to a maximum depth of 2-3 finger widths, regardless of the size of the glass. You may be acquainted with the same measures when asking for a Scotch. I am also a bit of a whisky enthusiast and find it useful to apply the same standards to wine. A measure of whisky in a larger vessel, with a few drops of water to open it up, ensured the aromas are held in the bowl and can be slowly and deeply savoured. Apply the same principles to wine (minus the water) and enjoy the benefits.
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