The nuances of wine are distinct and elaborate, which is why something as simple as the glass you serve it in plays a significant role in how the wine tastes and smells.
Wine glasses have the power to accentuate key qualities, camouflage others, and enhance the overall drinking experience. Wine glasses have 3 main features that are altered to fit specific styles of wine – the stem, the bowl, and the rim. Differences in stem height are determined by what temperature the wine is drunk at. The cooler the wine needs to be, the taller the stem. Bowl and rim shapes are important for concentrating and diffusing aromas, directing where the wine goes in your mouth, and many other factors. By adjusting these to match the type of wine you are drinking, you can enjoy the full, intended experience.
Red v. White
To begin let’s break down the differences on the most basic level – red wine glasses and white wine glasses.
With red wines, you typically want to allow a large surface area of the wine to be in contact with the air. Letting reds breathe is the first step to improving their taste and smell. So these glasses have wide bowls that spread out the wine and let oxygen work its magic.
On that note, make sure when you are pouring wine that you do it right up to the point where the glass is the widest. When you overfill a glass, the wine itself is not able to fully express its aromas and flavors because the glass is not designed to hold that much wine. Less wine in a glass makes it easier to distinguish all of its nuances and breath properly.
White wines typically don’t need to breathe like red wines, so the bowls of these glasses are smaller and more “U”-shaped. Generally, white wines have a lower alcohol content, so they do not need as much contact with air to disperse the ethanol vapors. By keeping the bowl smaller, the more subtle notes of white wine are concentrated and directed right to your nose. The smaller bowl also helps with directing wine to the middle of your palate, sharpening the acidity of the wine.
Closer Look: Red
Bordeaux-style wines – Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Cabernet Francs, etc. – are served in the tallest of all wine glass styles. The height works to eliminate the bitterness of these wines by sending the wine to the back of your mouth. Bold Bordeaux wines benefit from the large bowl as the increased surface area helps release the ethanol notes from the wine, allowing the rich, fruity aromas and flavors to shine.
Medium to Full-Bodied Reds
Syrah, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, and Malbec are served in glasses just slightly smaller than Bordeaux wines, sometimes classified as the “standard” red wine glass. The bowl is still large in order to help soften tannins, but the opening is more tapered. This helps hold in the complex, spicy aromas these wines are known for and slows down how much wine enters your mouth, lessening any harsh notes.
Burgundy reds, notably Pinot Noir, are served in glasses with very broad bowls. This is to help aerate the wine properly and release its intense floral and fruity aromas fully. Some variations of these glasses take it a step further and flare the rim slightly which helps guide those aromas to your nose as you take a drink. Since the bowl is so large, the stems are usually shorter than other red wine glasses, but this also makes it easier to swirl the wine. The rims are designed to have the wine hit the tip of your tongue when you drink, making it easier to catch those delicate notes hidden within.
Closer Look: White
Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigios, & Rieslings
These glasses have narrow bowls with tapered openings so that aromas cannot evaporate quickly. Trapping the aromas in the glass and allowing less air to come into contact with the wine makes it easier to discern the more delicate notes.
Chardonnay glasses are a little bit different than other white wine glasses because the full-bodied qualities of Chardonnay actually do require some aeration. More oxygen contact helps disperse the strong oaky notes and, similar to Pinot Noir glasses, the rim directs wine to the tip of your tongue and sides of your palate first. This helps highlight the sweeter notes of the wine, which can be lost when wine goes to the back of your mouth first.
Closer Look: Other
These glasses are similar to the general white wine glass, but there are two key features to watch for depending on the type of Rosé you are serving. For younger Rosés, go for a glass with a flared rim. Younger Rosés tend to be less sweet, so the flare aids in directing the wine to your tongue’s sweetness receptors. For your more mature Rosés, a tapered glass will keep the delicate aromas in check and the rest of the flavors balanced.
When it comes to Champagnes and sparkling wines, you have two glass options to choose from. If you want to preserve the effervescence of the wine, go for a flute. The narrow, thin bowl helps maintain the wine’s carbonation, and the narrow opening forces the wine to hit the tip of your tongue first for crisp intensity in every sip.
If you are looking to experience a sparkling wine’s deeper, more subtle notes, then go for a coupe glass. In the past, sparkling wines were always served in coupe glasses because most people preferred them on the more flat side.
Because of their higher alcohol content, dessert wines are typically served in small glasses for portion control purposes. The shape of the rim sends the wine to the back of your mouth, where sweet notes are less overpowering. Easy swirling is also key, as this helps reduce the acidity of these wines.