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Wine Glasses Need Not Be Complicated—Here’s the Lowdown

Food52 logo Food52 8/3/2021 Alyssa Longobucco
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There are just some things in life that are worth doing the right way. Cutting your bangs (please, go to a hair stylist), fixing your car (ditto—please go to a certified mechanic), folding your clothes immediately post-dryer (so much more annoying to try and work around set-in wrinkles after they’ve cooled). Another thing that I feel strongly should be added to that list? Sipping your favorite vino out of the right type of wine glass.

Call me an overachiever, but I truly feel like selecting the right type of wine glass for your specific style of wine can go a long way in making even an $8 Trader Joe’s bottle feel—and taste—like a more expensive varietal. The good news? It doesn’t have to be complicated. As it turns out, there are a few key features to look for when choosing the right type of wine glass for your bottle—everything else just comes down to style preferences, and we’ll leave that up to you. Ready for your glassware education? Let’s do this.

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So, Why Different Types of Wine Glasses Anyways?

This may surprise you, but a large part of enjoying wine actually doesn’t even have to do with the way it tastes—it has to do with the way it smells. Iconic Austrian glassmaker Claus Riedel (yes, that Riedel—not surprising, right?) was the first to dig into the correlation between the size and shape of a wine glass and its impact on the flavor of your wine. To this day, the Riedel brand makes my favorite wine glasses (along with Schott Zwiesel)—they’re thoughtful and considered, but still modern and stylish.

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The size and shape of a wine glass can impact how the aromatic vapors are captured and dispersed throughout your palette—and, as we’ve just learned, that’s a big factor in how good your wine tastes. Also, if you’ve ever felt like a restaurant pour of wine appears a little skimpy, you’d be right. All that extra empty space in the glass allows for the flavor to be contained, versus filling it to the brim and having all those important nuances escape before you even take your first sip. The more you know, right?

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Stemless vs. Stemmed Wine Glasses

If you’re anything like me, you probably have friends that feel very strongly one way or another about stemless wine glasses. On one hand, they’re more casual, save a bit of space in your cabinets, and are flexible enough to use for things other than wine, like cocktails, beer, and even soda. However, if you’re a purist or looking to take your hobby to the next level, stick to glasses with stems. Not only are they easier to swirl (which doesn’t just make you look fancy, it also helps to aerate the wine), but you’ll avoid bringing the wine up to body temperature by clutching the glass, which is especially important if you’re a white wine fan.

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Red Wine Glasses vs. White Wine Glasses

If you take away anything from this article, let it be the difference between red wine glasses and white wine glasses. Nail that, and you’re more than halfway there. As a general rule of thumb, red wine glasses should always have a wider, roomier “bowl” (aka the bottom of the glass just above the stem) than white wine glasses. This exposes more oxygen to the surface of the wine in your glass, allowing the full-bodied flavors to “open up” and strut their stuff—this is where you get all those yummy notes typically associated with red wine, like spices, pepper, while also toning down the tannins.

On the flip side, white wines often don’t need as much aeration to “open up” and therefore are fine being housed in wine glasses that are slimmer, with smaller rims. The shape also helps maintain a cooler temperature for the white wine (typically served chilled) and better expresses the acidity white wines are known for. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule—if you’re partial to an oaky chardonnay (commonly thought of as one of the most full-bodied white wines), you’ll likely get better tasting notes using a glass that has a larger bowl.

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Types of Red Wine Glasses

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You’ll notice a lot of similarities between different types of red wine glasses, but believe it or not, there are some important differences here, too.

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1. Bordeaux Glass

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For a bold red with a high concentration of tannins (think: a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, or Bordeaux), look for a glass that has a wider opening and medium-sized bowl. You want a decent amount of the wine exposed to allow the “bite” to dissipate, and a larger rim allows more wine to flow onto your palette to help you soak it all in. You’ll probably notice that this is a large glass, too—that’s also by design, and will allow for more of the ethanol to evaporate before you start sipping. These style of glasses are typically referred to as Bordeaux glasses, but may also be marketed as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot glasses.

2. Medium-Bodied Red Wine Glass

If you’re looking for a practical red wine glass good for almost anything, you’ll want to hunt down a style meant for medium-bodied reds like Malbec, Syrah, Petit Sirah and other wines that are a bit lighter on the alcohol content. Overall, this glass shape is smaller, with a tighter opening that helps any spices or flavors hit your tongue slowly. These glasses are often referred to as medium-bodied red wine glasses or standard red wine glasses.

3. Burgundy or Pinot Noir Glass

Make the most of more delicately-flavored red wines by pouring them into a glass with a very wide, generous bowl and narrow rim. Typically referred to as Burgundy glasses or Pinot Noir glasses, this shape allows more of the wine to oxygenate and up the flavor profile, and controls the flow onto your palette for maximum sweetness.

Types of White Wine Glasses

The differences between white wine glasses are far more nuanced than reds, and if you’re short on space or budget, you can likely get away with investing in just one type reflective of the wine you are most likely to drink. Still, knowledge is power, so here are your options.

4. Light-bodied White Wine Glass

Probably the most recognizable wine glass shape, light-bodied white wine glasses (also referred to as standard wine glasses) are what you’ll often have your picks poured into at a casual restaurant or bar (yes, even red wines). But, however universal of a reputation this shape may have gotten, it’s indeed still best used for white wines that are high in acid, like Sauvignon Blanc, Rieslings and even Rosé. It has a narrow bowl and rim, which help to maintain a cooler temperature, preserve floral notes, and up acidity.

5. Full-bodied White Wine Glass

To bring the most out of a more full-bodied white (think: Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, and White Rioja), look for a glass that again boasts a large bowl and large mouth. This will emphasize the creamy texture of these types of wines and help to bring out their richness. These types of wine glasses are typically referred to as a Chardonnay glass or a full-bodied white wine glass.

Types of Specialty Wine Glasses

6. Sparkling Wine Glass

A tall and narrow glass is a great way to harness all those playful bubbles champagne and other sparkling white wines are known for. The slim shape helps to contain (and maximize) the carbonation that creates those signature bubbles, while an elegant stem will keep the bubbly cool and (let’s be honest) class up your toasting experience. A quick note: While champagne coupes are charming and very Gatsby-esque, they’re not the best choice for your celebratory bubbly—the surface area exposure they cause will make your champagne go flat pretty quickly.

7. Dessert Wine Glass

Your glass of choice may differ slightly depending on the exact type of post-dinner sip you choose—however, the most popular choice is port wine, which you’ll typically find served in a compact and slender stemmed style. It’s crafted especially for a modest pour (notorious for dessert wines) and meant to bring out the sweetness and rich fruitiness typically associated with after-dinner drinks.

Do you have a go-to style of wine glass? Or do you have a set of each? Tell us below!

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