At first glance, wineglasses may look fairly similar, but subtle design differences can actually have a significant impact on how you experience a wine. The contours of a glass determine how much air the wine comes into contact with, how much aroma is released, where the wine first hits your tongue and even its temperature.
A wider bowl increases the surface area of the wine that's exposed to air and encourages alcohol evaporation, which creates what's known as the wine's aroma. Because so much of what you taste is informed by what you smell, the aroma of a wine can drastically alter it's taste. This is particularly true of red wines, which is why most red wineglasses have wider bowls to promote oxidation.
Lighter white wines are best enjoyed with only slight oxidation, as too much can begin to mask the nuances of the more delicate varietals. The narrower, taller bowl reduces surface area, thereby preserving the chill and the delicate bouquet of white wines. Sparkling wines such as Champagne also benefit from this shape, as they lose their signature carbonation when exposed to oxygen.
Holding a wine glass by its stem helps to keep the heat of your hand away from the wine. Otherwise the temperature of your hand can influence the temperature of the wine. Another advantage of stemmed glasses is that they can be stored by hanging them upside down so no stale air or dust gets trapped in the bowl.
Stemless wineglasses, or wine tumblers, are perfect for everyday use and casual entertaining such as alfresco dinners. These all-purpose glasses are less formal than stemmed glasses and can even be used to serve water when placed next to stemmed glasses.
The tapered shape suspends the wine's aroma at the top of the glass and prevents it from wafting away when the wine is swirled. The tapered shape also helps prevent spills that might result from swirling.
A glass with a rim that tapers and then flares slightly still effectively holds the wine's aroma, while directing the flow of wine toward the front palate, highlighting rich fruit flavors while tempering acidity.
The method and materials used to make a wineglass not only dictate what designs or shapes are achievable but also contribute to the taste of the wine, the price of the glass and its durability.
Crystal is glass that contains lead oxide. Beyond its extreme clarity and sparkle, crystal is a good choice for wineglasses because it's stronger and more resilient than plain glass and therefore more easily made into thinner, more delicate designs. The surface of crystal is also microscopically coarser than glass so wines develop more intense aromas when they're swirled in crystal stemware.
While crystal may be more resilient for the stemware creation process, glass is actually far less fragile than crystal once it has been blown. If you're looking for dishwasher-safe stemware, glass is a better choice than crystal. Shaped by a skilled glass-blower, glass stemware can be every bit as delicate and beautiful as crystal stemware.
The gold standard in stemware, this technique hasn't changed much in thousands of years. Hand blown glass is generally thinner and more graceful than machine-made glass. This is preferable not only for the way a lighter-weight glass balances in your hand but also because thin, smooth edges enhance wines when taking a sip. Hand blown glass is more expensive than machine made because of the extensive workmanship involved.
These days you'll find quite a few "combination" wineglasses with hand blown bowls and machine made stems and bases. In machine blown glass production, molten glass is shaped by compressed air to ensure consistency in shape and quality.
Thicker wineglasses are more durable and can usually be washed in the dishwasher, but they often have rolled edges that inhibit the smooth flow of the wine and tend to accentuate acidity and harshness.
The ideal wineglass is paper-thin. Thin glass keeps the wine cool whereas thick glass absorbs the coolness and raises the wine's temperature. Thin glasses also tend to have cut rims that permit the wine to flow smoothly onto the tongue.
When buying wineglasses, consider the particular wines that you like to drink and the occasions when you'd like to serve wine. Typically a combination of glasses works best. For everyday dining or smaller gatherings, select some grape-specific glasses that complement your favorite varietals. For larger cocktail parties, stock up on more versatile or all-purpose glasses that are easy to clean. For celebrations, have a few Champagne flutes on hand.
Wineglasses that are shaped to complement or enhance different types of grapes and wine varietals do so by controlling how much of the wine is exposed to air and how much of the aroma is released and also by directing the flow of wine onto the tongue. They are the choice of sommeliers and wine connoisseurs. Shop Specialized Wine Glasses >
Red wine glasses have a larger bowl to allow the complex aromatics to waft up, and also to help aerate the wine as you drink. Shop Red Wine Glasses >
White wineglasses are smaller and narrower to keep the wine cooler and focus the limited aromatics from a cold glass all toward your nose. Shop White Wine Glasses >
The tall narrow shape of the flute is ideal for sparkling wines because it preserves the wine's bubbles and pushes them up the glass creating a beautiful presentation. Shop Champagne Glasses >
These large, versatile wineglasses are intended for either red or white wine and are typically glass rather than crystal. They're the perfect multipurpose glasses for big cocktail parties or receptions.
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