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Wine Glass 101: How to recognize shapes, and why they make your wine taste better

By Amy Kisielica
Special to the Daily

It’s easy to be overwhelmed at the staggering variety of wine glass shapes, sizes and colors. But does it need to be so complicated? Do you really need cabinets full of wine glasses to meet the profile of each kind of wine you might ever drink?

Some people say it’s the wine that matters, and that endless options in glassware are just marketing hype. They believe that the wine will taste the same either from a generic wine glass, a coffee mug or, gasp, your favorite Yeti tumbler.

However, some say that the specific shape of the glass elevates the wine-tasting experience. So much so that the consumer can pick up every aroma of the wine and direct the wine to the exact part of the mouth that would allow him/her to taste that wine best.

Illustration by Carly Arnold

Does the glass matter or not?

The short answer is yes. But if you want to watch Netflix with your affordable bottle of wine, the method you use to get the wine into your mouth isn’t that important. If you’re opening something special or want a multi-sensory experience with a carefully selected bottle, having the right glass for the job is worth the investment.

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What do the experts say?

A study published in Gourmet Magazine in 2004 suggested that wine glass shape was purely for aesthetics. A researcher specializing in the chemical senses of taste and smell said the brain doesn’t care where taste is coming from in the mouth.

But 11 years later in February of 2015, Tokyo Medical and Dental University released a report with information using a camera that photographed where the ethanol vapors lingered in the bowl and left the opening of a wine glass, a water glass and a martini glass. The report demonstrated that selecting the proper glass is important for the best tasting experience.

This doesn’t mean you need to buy a specific wine glass for every varietal you might serve at home. Most wine lovers buy a set or two of glasses that fit their lifestyle. If you love Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, focus on those two styles, but don’t be afraid to serve a Cabernet or a Pinot Gris in them.

For the wine connoisseur, expanding your stemware collection to include specially made glasses for your favorite wines will only add to the overall wine-drinking experience. But for the day-to-day casual wine drinker, there’s no need. A quality set of versatile wine glasses will work perfectly.

Still unsure? Here’s a profile of several glass shapes and the wines that taste best in them.

Anatomy 101

The rim is the entry point where the wine first enters the mouth. The thinner the rim of the glass, the more easily the wine flows from the glass onto the palate.

The bowl is where different glasses vary the most. Red wine glasses will have a wider bowl with a larger amount of surface area for the wine to allow it to breathe so it can release complex aromas and flavors. While white wine glasses will have a narrower bowl, creating a smaller amount of surface area. Champagne glasses will have a very small amount of surface area so the wine stays as bubbly as possible.

The stem is a sophisticated handle and a practical way to hold your glass. The stem also keeps the wine from taking on the heat from your hand and allows you swirl the wine to release more aroma.

The foot, or the base, gives the glass stability and is a handy when resting your glass. It also works as a nice stopper where the hand can sit on the stem.

Types of glasses

Cabernet/Merlot/Bordeaux

This is the universal red wine glass. It’s tall with a full-sized bowl that tapers slightly at the top. The height of the glass helps control the alcohol on the nose, allowing more oxygen to soften tannins and take out the bitterness.

Pinot/Burgundy

Usually not as tall as the Cabernet glass. It will have a much wider bowl which exposes the wine to plenty of air, improving flavor and aroma.

Shiraz/Syrah

The tallest of all red wine glasses with a distinct taper towards the top.

Rosé

The flared rim directs wine to the top of the tongue, to temper acidity, while the moderate width was designed to emphasize the fruity aspects of rose.

Port

Port glasses tend to be short and on the smaller size, as port has a much higher alcohol content than standard wine. Fortified, high-alcohol wines do better in a small glass, which concentrates fruit but tames the alcohol vapor.

Chardonnay

Much like the Cabernet glass is to red wine, a Chardonnay glass is considered the standard white wine glass. Similar style to Cabernet glass but smaller.

Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Grigio

A bit shorter and smaller bowl than Chardonnay, designed to bring out the crisp acidity in these wines.

Champagne/Sparkling

The flute is designed to be tall and thin to highlight the fine bouquet, richness and complexity on the palate. It also can keep the bubbles in the flute longer. With less surface area exposed to the air, the wine won’t lose its carbonation too quickly.

Dessert wine

These fancy glasses are used for sweet and fortified wines. Each of these glasses, the Port, Sherry and Madeira, are smaller for directing the wine to the back of the mouth.


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