Wine Glass Guide

Much like wine itself, there’s plenty of variation in serving glasses, with factors such as shape and material affecting the wine serving and drinking experience. There are also certain rules about which types of glass to use with particular wines, with many additional exceptions to those rules. This guide will outline some of the basics of wine glasses and the factors that go into selecting the perfect one to aid you in your enjoyment.

Parts of a Wine Glass

Each wine glass has four main parts that we’ll refer to. The bowl, the stem, the rim, and the base are all important factors in describing and understanding a glass:

  • The base is the lower part of a glass that keeps it standing upright and holds the wine’s weight.
  • The stem comes between the bowl and the base of a glass and helps the drinker hold the glass of wine.
  • The rim is the point at which wine moves from the glass to the mouth. The thinner the glass at the rim, the more seamless the wine drinking experience. 
  • The bowl is the part of the glass that holds the wine. It is the part that sees the most variation, thus making it immensely important to understanding wine glasses. 

Why is the bowl so important? The shape and size of the bowl affects how much oxygen reaches the wine and also helps direct the wine’s aromas, meaning that the right bowl can greatly affect your experience.

The Role of Aroma and Taste

You may have heard your favorite celebrity chef mention how important a food’s smell is to the resulting taste experience. The same is true for wine — the ability for aromas to travel around the nasal cavity has a great deal of importance in giving our brains information about flavor. This is the very reason why the bowl of a wine glass is always the widest part, before narrowing towards the rim, thus driving all aromas to the face and nose. This is also the most practical reason to swirl your wine glass — while this helps a bit for aeration, it’s even better for bringing out the aromas to your nose before sipping.

Red Wine Glass Bowls

Red wine glasses typically have a larger bowl compared to white wine glasses. This is because red wines are typically packed with tannins and full-body flavors, meaning they have a greater need for aeration than most whites. In a way, a larger bowl sort of acts as a mini decanter, allowing for a greater amount of surface area and therefore more exposure to oxygen that will soften and enhance flavors.

White Wine Glass Bowls

Compared to red wines, white wines usually benefit from smaller bowls. Most white wines have lighter bodies and flavor profiles, and the smaller bowl allows for these more subtle aromatic notes to be in close proximity to the nose. In cases of heavier bodied white wines, such as Chardonnay, you may opt for a wider bowl as in the case of red wine.

Dessert Wine Glass Bowls

Dessert wines are usually poured into much smaller glasses with smaller bowls. Due to their higher alcohol and sugar content, most dessert wines are usually consumed in smaller quantities, meaning that a smaller glass is more suited to the serving size. Due to their sweetness and distinct aromas compared to traditional wine, these small glasses help concentrate sweetness and bring the accompanying aromas to the nose.

Sparkling Wine Glass Bowls

Champagne and other sparkling wines are often served in flutes and other glasses with longer and narrower bowls. This shape allows for the bubbles to be heavily concentrated and quickly reach the palate upon taking a sip, regardless of how much has been consumed so far. Flutes are also important to the aesthetic of the champagne drinking experience, offering a classy and formal look, with the elegant effect of bubbles traveling all the way from the bottom to the top of the glass. Sparkling wine can also be served in another traditional, old-school glass called a coupe or saucer. Coupes have much less depth and much more width than a flute, which allows for the bubbles to be dispersed more evenly and allows the wine to open up for a more flavorful experience.

A Word on Stems

While the bowl is the most significant influencer of a wine’s flavors and aromas, the stem is also significant in the serving and drinking experience. In addition to simply assisting in holding the glass, the main role of stems is to help to regulate the temperature of wine.

Many wine enthusiasts and restaurants alike have been serving wine in stemless glasses, mainly due to convenience in consumption and cleaning. The main advantages of stemless glasses is that they are much harder to break or knock over. However, a lack of stem means a lack of temperature control when consuming your wine!

For example, a chilled white wine will suffer significantly in a stemless glass, as the drinker’s hand will eventually warm up the liquid. With a stem, heat is directed away from the bowl itself, thus better regulating the wine’s temperature. This means that unchilled red wines are slightly more suitable to serve in stemless glasses, but if you have the option, a stemmed glass will still allow that slight temperature regulation. It is best to avoid stemless glasses with sparkling wine, both due to temperature reasons and due to the significant role of the flute or coupe shape in influencing the wine’s bubbles.

Glass vs. Crystal

The material of a wine glass can also affect the wine drinking experience. Most glasses are made from either crystal or traditional glass. Crystal is often regarded as a higher quality glass, but does have a few drawbacks. Most crystal needs to be hand washed, as it is thinner than glass and somewhat porous, meaning they are usually not dishwasher-safe. The thinness of crystal has many benefits, such as its ability to refract light and give a sparkly appearance to your wine. In addition, these glasses can be made even thinner at the rim, something that is highly regarded for smooth wine drinking. If you want the best experience, go with crystal, but it will come at a price.

In contrast, glass glasses are much more affordable and durable, though they do not offer the elegance of crystal. Your decision comes down to your own needs: crystal is the best, but if you want a great glass that you can throw in the dishwasher and won’t break the bank, opt for a glass wine glass.

Wine Glasses 101

Wine glasses may seem simple on the surface: just a glass vessel with a base, stem, bowl, and rim. But even the slightest changes can affect your wine-drinking experience. Red wines need the widest bowls, whites can be slightly smaller, and dessert and sparkling wines have totally different glasses. Stems can influence temperature, and even the material of the glass can be considered when choosing your preferred vessel. The right wine glass will ensure the best flavors and aromas, so choose wisely and enjoy your wine!