Wine glasses to use for different types of wine, explained
Why do wine glasses come in so many styles? How do you know which kind to use? Does it really make a difference?
While our readers in the industry may know their way around a glass cabinet blindfolded, selecting the right glassware for your dinner party can be a minefield.
In the interests of demystifying the intricacies of service for those new to the trade, we spoke to Gabe Geller, comms director at US importer Royal Wine, who gave us a blow-by-blow on when you should opt for a balloon-shape, tulip or flute depending on your serve.
Keep scrolling to find out just how much science goes into your wine glass…
It’s all about physics, according to Geller. “The bowl of the glass is designed with surface area in mind.”
The bowls of red wine glasses tend to be fuller and rounder, with a larger opening than other wine glasses in order to allow you to dip your nose into the glass to detect aroma.
This is because red wines need a larger surface area to soften and breathe.
When air and wine interact, two important processes occur: evaporation and oxidation. Allowing these processes to occur can improve the quality of wine by changing its chemistry.
Volatile compounds evaporate quickly in air, and often red wines can be prone to being both more alcoholic, and containing more volatile compounds. By using a larger surface area with your wine glass, these volatile compounds dissipate quickly, allowing the bouquet of your vino to come through quickly. Sulfites in wine also disperse when you give it time to breathe.
Secondly, oxidation — or oxygen exposure — is crucial to letting the flavour and nose of a wine shine through, particularly for a wine that has been stored in the cellar for some time. Chemical reactions are constantly taking place with these wines, which in turn create complex flavour profiles. These wines are often described as “closed” when the cork is first removed, and using a larger glass allows these compounds to disperse and the wine to “open-up.”
“Red wines generally need to breathe, so a fuller, rounder bowl with a wide opening suits them best,” said Geller.
Different kinds of red wine glass
Although it is widely accepted that red wines benefit from a larger glass, some types of red benefit from minute changes in glass shape.
The tallness of a wine glass is thought to allow the wine to proceed directly to the back of the mouth, which allows more bitter flavours to shine. A “Bordeaux” glass is tall with a broad bowl, designed for full bodied red like Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah as it directs wine to the back of the mouth.
A “Burgundy” glass, on the other hand, has a bigger bowl to pick up on aromas of more delicate red wines such as Pinot Noir. This style of glass directs wine to the tip of the tongue.
For the most part, white wines do not need as large a glass as reds to release their aroma and flavour.
The bowl will be more U-shaped and upright than that of a red wine glass, allowing the aromas to be released. Glasses with a smaller bowl also help the wine to retain a cooler temperature.
While youthful whites benefit from a glass with slightly larger opening, directing the wine to the tip and sides of the tongue, mature expressions are often serve in glasses that are straighter and taller to dispense the wine to the back and sides of the tongue, allowing you to taste the bolder, buttery and oaky flavours.
Rosés, on the whole, can be served in white wine glasses because the two are produced similarly (rosés only see a relatively small amount of skin exposure compared with reds).
However, there are glasses made specifically for rosés which have fruity, slightly sweeter flavour characteristics, according to Geller.
These glasses have shorter bowls that are slightly tapered and sometimes have a flared rim. “The rim affects the way you sip,” he explains. “The flair helps direct the wine directly to the tip of the tongue.”
When it comes to fizz, it depends on your preference. Prosecco and Cava with a lighter flavour is often suited to tall, narrow glasses, often called flutes, which capture the carbon dioxide in sparkling wines, keeping the bubbly bubblier.
However, if you’re enjoying a complex fizz, particularly anything that has been bottle-fermented, it may be better suited to a wider, white wine-style glass. this is because, just as with still wines, the flavour compounds are able to meet a greater surface area of oxygen, letting them breathe.
Ultimately, this is all down to your personal preference. Everyone’s palette is different, and the benefits of certain wine glasses vary from person to person.
At any rate, said Geller, “There’s no reason to think you’ll ever be judged by your stemware, and you don’t have to be a professional sommelier to choose the right glass.”
If you have to choose one universal style, he recommends a thin glass with a large bowl that narrows at the top, ideally holding about 13 oz. of wine.
“A good universal wine glass is perfectly suitable for anything, from your summer afternoon Ramon Cardova Rosado to a vintage Bordeaux.”