Nothing beats that first taste of your favorite wine, right? Actually, yes. Take that sip from the perfect, built-for-your-blend glass, and it could be your best sip of wine yet.
All the parts of a wineglass — including its shape, material, stem and base — play a role in the wine-tasting process. That's why a malbec is often served in a different glass than, say, a rosé, and why Champagne flutes look different from pinot noir glasses.
Each glass is made according to a wine's characteristics and composition in mind. In some cases — particularly for wine connoisseurs — the glass can make or break the experience.
Breaking Down the Wineglass
According to Ganna 'Ania' Fedorova, national beverage director for City Winery, an upscale wine bar with branches everywhere from New York City to Nashville, size is one of the most important features of a wineglass. "The majority of wine taste comes from these aromatic compounds," she says. "We smell the wine more than we taste it, and the wider the glass, the more aromatic compounds you can capture." In smaller bowls, it's tough for the wine's aromas to escape. This can slightly mute the overall taste.
While a large bowl releases a wine's aroma, the rim is often used for scent concentration. Take the traditional white wineglass used for styles like chardonnay. According to Wine Enthusiast, it's meant for young, fresh wines, as the slightly narrow rim concentrates the nose of highly aromatic white wines. For pinot noirs, the ultra-wide bowl and small, tight rim are built with ultimate aeration in mind. For thin Champagne flutes, it's all about keeping the bubbles flowing and fruit and yeast aromas focused, according to Wine Enthusiast.
Wineglass shapes vary, but stems typically stay the same across glass varieties. "When we look at the ratio of stem to bowl, the stem is usually the same length," Fedorova says. "You can hold the glass by the stem to not increase the temperature by holding the bowl [with your hand]."
This is essential, because each wine is (or at least should be) served at a precise temperature. With stemless wineglasses, heat from the drinker's hand could transfer and alter the temperature and, ultimately, the wine itself. "One consequence of stemless glassware is it may warm the wine a bit faster," Fedorova says. Wine Enthusiast says it's not a major issue with reds, which are typically served warmer, but it could be a "disaster" for whites.
Could One Perfect Glass Be the Answer?
Wine lovers with unlimited shelf space may enjoy collecting all this glassware, but according to Fedorova, some sommeliers think it's unnecessary. "Everybody has an opinion: Some wine critics say one glass can be universal and perfect for every type of wine, and of course some wine critics disagree," she says.
The proposed "universal wineglass" is designed to bring multiple wineglass characteristics into one versatile shape. Fedorova says this type of glass should have several key traits: "It's medium-sized, about 18 ounces, not too small so you can still collect aromatic compounds to enjoy the wine fully, but not too large because you may lose aromatics too quickly," she explains. Something between a chardonnay and smaller red glass is ideal, per Wine Enthusiast.
For those willing to splurge on more than one glass, online wine distributor Winc recommends having two sets of glasses: smaller glasses for whites and larger glasses for reds. "The reason white wineglasses need to be smaller is so they don't warm up before being consumed," the company wrote in a blog post.
Do Materials Impact Taste?
Wineglasses come in two varieties: crystal or glass. According to the blog Wine Folly, glass is "non-porous and inert, meaning that it will not absorb chemical aromas or corrode if you wash it in the dishwasher." These glasses have a lip at the rim to ensure durability, which Wine Folly notes is not optimal for wine tasting. That said, glass is more affordable.
Crystal on the other hand is pricier, but that high ticket price comes with high quality. Crystal can be spun thin, which means the edge of the glass is both slender and durable. It also refracts light for better wine ogling, according to Wine Folly. Lead-free crystal can be cleaned in the dishwasher, but other types cannot.
Fedorova says City Winery sources all of its wineglasses from Riedel, which makes its products with crystal. Another brand she recommends is Gabriel Glas, which also makes elegant and durable glasses out of crystal.
So does the wineglass really affect taste that much? Yes and no. On the scientific side, the right glass can perfect the wine-drinking experience. But Fedorova notes that the "best" wineglass is often subjective.
"I enjoy tasting different wines from different glasses to see the different variations and flavors," she says. "It's as much magic as it is science, because at least half of every wine is just pure magic!"