I’ve gotten a lot of questions about what type of wine glasses people should buy. So I thought I’d ask and answer the most basic one – Does the shape of your wine glass matter? My short answer is YES. But let me explain a bit further. That YES is based on having a sensory experience with the wine, an experience that stimulates your smell, taste and enjoyment of this amazing liquid. And that’s why I think the shape of the glass matters.
The tulip or bowl shaped wine glass is well designed to deliver on smell and taste, and on sight as well as long as you don’t use colored glassware. After all the three basic actions to take in order to taste and appreciate wine are to See It, Smell It and Sip It. That’s my routine when I first pour it in the glass or have it served to me.
See It: Take a good look at the wine and notice it’s color. Color can be an initial telltale about the wine. Is it cloudy or clear? What shade of red is it (deep dark purple or brick red? see through light garnet or ruby?) – or what variation of white (more golden or yellow? pale or amber, etc). The color can indicate the varietal, the age or the style so you want to be able to See It and that tulip glass with a nice bowl lets you move it around for a good look without spilling it.
Smell It: Take a good whiff! And as you move it around (this is the swirl of wine tasting) you can observe the “legs” or “tears” on the side of the glass. This is an indicator of the wine’s body and alcohol. Slower, more viscous legs indicate more heft and likely higher alcohol. The alcohols begin to evaporate and leave the legs – and carry the aromas up to our noses as we then Smell It. Our smell drives our taste. We are all unique and I won’t tell you what you should smell or taste with any wine. There is no right or wrong answer. This is your own sensory experience, but having a glass that let’s you stick your nose into it is where the tasting begins. Then Sip It.
Sip It: The payoff. Here I think the glass matters in the mouth of the beholder. I like the feel of sipping from a nice, thin wineglass as opposed to something heavy and thick. The Riedel folks maintain that the crystal and the glass shape for each type of grape actually enhances the taste. I had a lengthy breakfast discussion with Georg Riedel himself about this and he can be pretty convincing, but I’ll leave that for you to decide. Here’s a link to their glass guide: Riedel Glass Guide. I personally like having a a well shaped tulip bowl on a stem to hold an to. The stem let’s me hold it and swirl it easily while at the same time keeping the heat from my hand from warming the wine.
So in my view the glass does matter, but don’t make yourself crazy about what you have to buy or what the “proper” glass is for a particular wine. Some of my favorite sips have come in little trattorias when wandering through Italy where the wine is served in small water glasses – and that makes them the ideal wine glass!