Wine Glasses: The Last Step from Grape to Pleasure

by Chris Cree

The typical wine drinker tends to put a fair amount of thought into the wines they purchase, but less so into the glass. Yet the glass is the final step in a wine’s long journey from grape to your palate. It is a vessel that has the final word and matching the wine you are drinking with the correct style of glass can enhance that experience.
Historically wine has been drunk from a number of different containers of various size, shape, and construction – from leather wine bags or cow horns to wooden bowls to ornately wrought cups of metals and other materials.
Today’s wine glass is typically made of colorless crystal or glass (to best evaluate the wine’s color) with a foot and stem (although stemless are also popular if a bit more informal), and a bowl that typically narrows at the top.
The design of the glass is often matched to the style of wine to best match each wine’s specific aroma and flavor profile. The concept behind which is that most of how we perceive taste is actually through our sense of smell (olfactory). As wine is poured into the bowl-shaped glass, it interacts with air as it swirls around. As most wine glasses are narrower at the top, these aromas are captured, concentrated and focused to deliver maximum sensation.
The Bordeaux glass, with its a taller, narrower oval profile, and the Burgundy glass, with a wider, rounder bowl shape, are two of the most common shapes for red wines. A scaled down version of both is typically used for whites.
Champagne, in the past often drunk in wide, flat “coupes” has evolved to the flute, and now the trend is towards using a classic white wine glass to optimize the wine’s aroma and flavor best. In addition to these basics, there is an overwhelming array of other glasses for Port, Sherry, specific wine regions, grape varieties, and more.
While the sheer number of wines glass styles available is often more closely driven by marketing than practicality, pairing the wine with the right glass does work. A light delicate white may not have the stuffing to fill a large Bordeaux glass, leaving the wine’s aroma diffused or diluted, while a smaller white wine glass will nicely capture and deliver them. Conversely, a full-bodied classic red like Bordeaux will seem confined in a small glass, and you will miss some of what it has to offer.  A larger Bordeaux shape will allow its aromas to fully develop and be enjoyed to their fullest potential.
Heavy cut crystal has given way to a finer, more delicate and lighter glass, with companies such as Riedel and Zalto, with its sleek, modern angular shape, currently crafting some of the finest and most popular examples. It was the Austrian Riedel company, with incredible marketing savvy, that lead the charge to ever more wine specific shapes, sizes, and price points.
And while the incredible array of stemware on the market can seem daunting, just a few shapes and styles will get all but the most finicky wine lover quite nicely to the bottom of the bottle.
A standard white wine glass, a scaled down elongated egg shape, will do for any wine in a pinch. Practical and affordable, if you were to have just one glass this would be it.
Adding a large Bordeaux glass for deep, full-bodied reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, and a rounder Burgundy bowl shape for aromatic reds (like Pinot Noir or and a few full-bodied whites) would be the next step. And depending on your preference for enjoying your sparkling wines, adding a Champagne flute would cover just about all of your wine needs.
Many of the finest and most expensive models are also very fragile, and perhaps best kept for special occasions and your finest bottles. It’s not a bad strategy to supplement them with a set of less expensive, sturdier, everyday glasses for casual use.
So when you next open a bottle of wine, be sure to get the most out if it and think about the glass as it conveys the wine on the last step of the journey. Cheers!

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