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Choosing the Right Glassware for Enjoying Wine

A few years ago, a Japanese medical group recorded how ethanol vapor behaved in glasses of different shapes. Their findings demonstrated that the shape of a glass actually changes the density and location of vapor at the opening of the glass. That’s exciting news for wine connoisseurs, as it proves that wine drinkers can experience aromas (which are in vapor form) differently depending on the shape of the glass.

That’s why choosing the right glassware for wine is important: how you experience the wine will change depending on what you use to drink it!

Now, there are wine glasses for every kind of vintage and grape variety, but don’t feel the need to buy a new glass for every kind of wine (unless you enjoy collecting!) As long as you keep in mind the basics of wine glass design and understand what different shapes do, then you can make do with three basic types of wine glasses: red wine glass, white wine glass, and sparkling wine glass.

The Basic Anatomy of a Wine Glass

A wine glass has three parts: the bowl, the stem, and the base. The base is sometimes referred to as the “foot,” but we’ll call it the base. The stem varies in length, but its purpose is to help regulate the temperature of the wine by keeping your hand off the bowl.

Obviously, it’s the bowl that is the real differentiator between wine glasses. Each of the wine glass types we describe below mostly differ in bowl size and shape, changing the way we experience the wine’s aromas. Bowls vary in terms of width, height, and even the size and shape of the rim. As a general rule, the thinner the rim of your wine glass, the higher quality it is.

Red Wine Glasses

As we’ve discussed on the blog before, red wines often benefit from aeration to aid with tannin integration. This opens up the wine, allowing the aromas and flavors to come forward. To aid in aeration, the ideal glass for red wine typically has an especially round, deep bowl and a large opening. The broad surface area of a red wine glass allows drinkers to swirl and aerate the wine without risk of spilling.

The length of the bowl from the bottom to the rim also affects your experience. Increased distance between the wine and your nose can help you detect aromas: more room in the bowl means more air, which means more aeration. That’s why wine glasses designed for high-tannin wines like Merlot, Syrah, or Cabernet Sauvignon often have large, tall bowls—a style of glass known as the “Bordeaux” glass.

White Wine Glasses

While red wine glasses are designed to maximize aeration, white wine glasses typically serve a different purpose: to preserve aromas, keep the wine cooler for longer, and deliver more aromas at a shorter distance from the nose. White wine glasses use smaller rim widths, which limits aeration and retains the lightness and acidity white wine is known for.

As a result, white wine glasses tend to have two design types. The traditional design has a round bowl with a narrow opening, which keeps aromas in and limits oxidation. The other design, known as a burgundy glass, employs a broad but short bowl. Riedel, who introduced the Montrachet glass, explains that this helps emphasize the creaminess of certain vintages.

Sparkling Wine Flutes

Tall, thin flutes are typically only used for drinking sparkling wine. The small surface area of the flute keeps sparkling wines bubbly for longer, but the tradeoff is that the aroma of the wine tends to be a little muted. To experience the aroma of a sparkling wine, you can use a white wine glass as a compromise between bubbly mouthfeel and opening up the aroma.

Glass vs. Crystal Wine Glassware

Traditionally, crystal is a type of glass that is softer and easier to cut due to lead content. As a result, crystal is often heavier than regular glass. However, because traditional crystal can sometimes allow lead to leach out, today’s crystal is unleaded.

Crystal glasses are:

  • Thinner than normal glass
  • Creates a smoother sip due to the thinner rim
  • More expensive than glass
  • More fragile than glass
  • Porous
  • Only washable by hand

The advantage of using normal glass over crystal is in durability and ease of maintenance. Glass is less likely to break than crystal and is dishwasher-safe. If you’re having a large party, traditional glass would be more likely to survive the bustling crowd. However, if you’re having an intimate dinner party, crystal can show off your taste without much risk.

Theorem Vineyards puts as much care into each bottle as every glassware designer puts into their glasses. For wine that’s worthy of your very best glassware, visit our shop. Add yourself to our mailing list so you don’t miss our newest releases!