Does the shape of your wine glass really make a difference? The answer ultimately depends on your objective.
Sure, enjoying your wine out of a coffee mug or mason jar will still give you the winter warm-wine fuzzies, but you are likely not getting the most out of your wine.
The first decision to make is whether you want crystal or glass. Both have pros and cons. Crystal stemware contains minerals, some with lead and some without. If your glasses contain lead, it’s generally OK because your wine isn’t sitting in the glass for extended periods of time, merely for an hour or two. The addition of the minerals gives crystal glasses more strength, enabling them to be made thinner than otherwise. A downside to crystal is that it is porous and should be hand-washed.
Glass stemware is typically thicker for more durability and is inert, non-porous and can be thrown in the dishwasher. Another benefit of glass is the cost. Crystal stemware starts around $15 per glass and can easily top out over $100 per glass.
Wine glasses come in various shapes and sizes. Some producers have gone so far as to make a specific glass for each grape varietal. Perhaps this is extravagant, but at the end of the day, there is a market for such opulence.
Cost and type of glass aside, the single most important factor when purchasing stemware is that glasses have a strong tulip-like shape. This allows the wine to be swirled without letting it jump out of the glass. Swirling your wine radically enhances the bouquet, which ultimately intensifies the taste and experience.
Within the realm of red wine glasses, there are two distinct types – Bordeaux and Burgundy glasses, named after the world’s most famous appellations in France. Bordeaux-style stemware is designed for big, bold red wines such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, syrah, tempranillo and zinfandel. The bowl of the glass is rather rotund and similarly as tall. The theory is that because of the bold aromatics coming from these wines, the bouquet is better smelled from a further distance than with Burgundy glasses.
Burgundy glasses are designed for more delicate wines such as Burgundy, Beaujolais, Barolo and Chianti. These glasses are considerably wider at the bottom of the bowl and also shallower. Allegedly, because of its more subtle nature, your nose will benefit from being closer to the wine.
White wine glasses have considerably smaller bowls that are slightly longer than they are wide. The design increases the length of the wine being chilled. Champagne flutes have an even more dramatic appearance. Elongated, narrow bowls amplify the appearance of the wine’s sparkle. The design also ensures a cold sparkling wine stays cold.
At the end of the day, appropriate stemware can make a mediocre wine smell and taste much better. And if you are opening that special holiday wine, it’s going to be best represented in proper stemware.
Alan Cuenca is an accredited oenophile and owner of Put a Cork in It, a Durango wine store. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.