Know Your Wine Glasses: Stemware Explained

Do you know your flutes from your snifters? If stemware has you confused, relax, you only need to master a few basics to pick the right glass and make the most of your favorite wine.  Here’s my quick primer on what matters — and what doesn’t — when choosing your vino vessels.

Rich Reds

If you’re a red wine devotee, you’re probably in love with a whole different flavor profile.  Instead of tangy whites that tantalize the tip of your tongue, a dark, deep red can be full-bodied in both flavor and in mouth texture.  There are so many different red varietals that you could go broke trying to get the perfect glass for each one.

In general, red wines work best in a glass with a nice, wide mouth.  This increases the surface area of wine that comes in contact with the air allowing it to “breathe.”  The oxidation helps take the bite out of tannins and gives you the mellow experience you’re looking for while simultaneously unleashing dormant aromas and flavors.

The richer your red — think Merlots and Cabs — the taller your glass (the bowl, not the stem height) should be.  A taller and larger bowl helps direct the flow of wine to the back of your tongue, where you’ll experience the tannins and body of the wine.  On the other hand, a light-bodied red like a Pinot Noir has some delicate fruitiness you’ll want to enjoy, so it’s best served in a glass with a shorter bowl.

Winning Whites

Think about your favorite white wine, is it cool and crisp? Does it have a sharp, citrusy bite?  Those flavor profiles give you important information about the appropriate glass to use.  In general, white wines are best when they’re chilled and a taller, narrower glass helps keep your favorite vintage nice and cool by reducing the surface area — and the contact with the warm air — at the top of the glass.

That narrow opening also helps concentrate the delicate aromas of white wine so you can smell them before you sip. Your sense of smell is crucial for detecting the delicate hints of fruit, so your white wine will not taste as good if its aroma dissipates over a larger area.

Spunky Sparklers

Is your head spinning yet?  We haven’t even gotten to sparkling wines!  To keep bubbles in your drink where they belong — as opposed to letting your Champagne go flat faster — it’s best to use a tall flute.  This glass keeps your drink colder and provides the longest distance for the bubbles to travel before escaping into the air.

Best Glasses for Every Budget

If you only have room for one wine glass in your cupboard, choose one that’s right down the middle: medium height, medium width.  Make sure it has a stem, too.  Stemless glasses might store easily, but the heat of your hand will ruin your white wine.

If you have room for two wine glasses, choose a wide, round bowl with slightly tapered sides for your reds — the stem situation is up to you.  For your whites and sparkling, choose a tall stemmed glass with narrower, straight sides within the bowl.  This glass will serve you well for your bubbly and any of your chilled whites.

If you have a higher budget, you can take a look at more expensive options.  Leaded glass or crystal contains minerals that strengthen the integrity of the wine glass while still allowing them to be quite thin near the rim.  This improves your experience of the sip since less glass is making contact with your lips, but it also means you’ll be hand washing your glasses for their protection.  These are definitely NOT dishwasher safe

But your wine glasses don’t have to be expensive to do their jobs well.  When you know what shape to use for your next pour, the least expensive glass will serve you far better than a leaded crystal one that’s simply the wrong type.  Once you start experiencing the difference the right glass can make, you might learn to love your wine even more than you already do!

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