Thoughts on Your Wine Glass Choices for Shape and Size

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GrapevineI just emptied the dishwasher this morning and started storing the wine glasses. I began to ponder, once again, as I have in earlier columns, the difference in the sizes and shapes of the glasses. Do the characteristics of a wine glass really matter? (After all, wine doesn’t spend enough time in a glass to warrant deep analysis.)

The answer is an emphatic yes. It matters. From enhancing the appearance of a particular wine to enhancing the appreciation of its aromas, it matters. Here are three of my immutable axioms that warrant discussion:

  1. The proper drinking glass is one with a stem.
  2. The proper shape of a wine glass is bowl-shaped.
  3. The proper proportion of wine in a glass is one-third full.

Stems. When I was growing up, at Sunday dinner I was served a bit of wine in a small, stemless, straight-walled glass. Now that I’m a grown-up, I drink wine from a larger, stemmed, bowl-shaped glass. Although I enjoyed my dad’s homemade wine in my youth, that glass hindered my appreciation of the finer elements of his wine (even at a young age).

Today, there is a trend to stemless glasses. I’m not a big fan. To me they are counterintuitive to the principles of enjoying wine, which I’ve outlined below.

Wines are intended to be consumed at the temperature they are served. Without stems, we hold the glass with our fingers – or palms, or both – around the wine, transferring our body heat to the wine; this changes the temperature and therefore our appreciation of the wine. And our sauce-stained fingers cloud our view of the color, which has a sensory influence on our anticipated experience of the wine.

Bowl-Shaped Glasses. Wine glasses generally should have a chimney shape – broader at the bottom, tapering to a smaller opening at the top. The broader bottom will allow you to swirl the wine, releasing its essence. The narrower top will capture the essence of the aromas and flavors of the wine, channel them upward and better transfer them to your nose and mouth.

The typical classification for wine glasses is four-fold: red, white, champagne and fortified. There are shapes and sizes of glasses for a multitude of wines. One of the more famous glassware producers, Reidel, sells over 20 different glasses, touting the uniqueness of each one for a particular varietal.

Red wine glasses tend to be the most pronounced in shape and largest in size. Why? Red wines have the strongest aromas and flavors. More surface area and volume of the glass allow the wine to breathe more openly and provide a bouquet directed to the top of the glass. Of course, different red wines have unique characteristics, so there are many styles (shapes) of glasses.

White wine glasses tend to be smaller, narrower and more tulip-shaped than red wine glasses. The smaller size requires refilling sooner, minimizing the exposure-time to the ambient temperature. The narrower bowl has less surface area, quickly forcing the aromas to the top.

Champagne glasses tend to be small, very narrow, with long stems and a narrow bowl. This allows the carbonation to continue in the glass, allowing us the visual pleasure of a continuous stream of bubbles. The narrow top directs the bubbles to the tip of the tongue and the delicate aromas to the nose.

Fortified wine glasses are typically for port, sherry, aperitifs and liqueurs. The shape tends to be tall but narrow, with a slight bowl shape. This focuses the aromatic flavors toward the top of the glass and the nose, while suppressing the scent of the high level of alcohol.

Proportion. The volume of wine should not exceed about one-third of the capacity of the glass. This allows the glass to concentrate the aromas and flavors over a greater surface area within the glass and then transfer these to the top of the glass toward your nose and mouth.

If selecting the “proper” wine glass seems daunting, or intimidating, don’t fret. Just follow the basics. You’ll find that the right glass for the right wine will increase your pleasure and enhance your wine palate.

Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.

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