Does the Shape of the Wine Glass Affect the Taste of the Wine?

Shape of the wine glass affect the taste of the wine

The shape of the wine glass affects the taste of the wine because the bowl concentrates the wine’s aromatics. Credit: Pixabay CC user PixelAnarchy

Years ago, I brought my favorite bottle of Blandy’s Madeira to my family’s annual Christmas dinner party. I asked my sister to get our mom’s Port glasses out of the bar cabinet, but she returned with a handful of tiny sherry glasses instead. I asked her why she didn’t bring the Port glasses, and she said, “Does it matter? It’s just a glass.” To prove her wrong, I had my sister try a sip from of Madeira from each glass. In the minuscule sherry glass, the Madeira couldn’t breathe, and the wine tasted dull and bland. In the wide-bottomed Port glass, the wine transformed into an aromatic masterpiece.

The shape of a wine glass affects the taste of the wine inside by channeling the wine’s aromatics and keeping it cool. If you choose the wrong glass, you could stifle your wine’s bouquet.

Red Wine vs. White Wine Glasses

Shape of the wine glass affect the taste of the wine

Photo Credit: Pixabay CC user Didgeman

Standard red wine glasses are larger than most other types of glasses, and they have longer stems. The larger bowl size helps the wine release its aromatics into the air, and the tapered top channels smells directly to your nose. The long stems on a red wine glass allow you to swirl your glass more easily, releasing even more aroma. It also prevents you from touching the bowl directly with your hands; if you touch the bowl directly, you risk heating the wine up too much in the palm of your hand, impacting the flavor. This is why I never use a wine tumbler when drinking wine. You should have about six standard red wine glasses that you can use for any type of red wine, from cult California Cabernet to Australian Shiraz, and Oregon Pinot Noir to Burgundy.

Like a standard red wine glass, a standard white glass is made to handle nearly every style of white wine. A standard white wine glass has a slightly smaller bowl than a red wine glass because whites don’t need as much space to become aromatic. In fact, if you give these wines too much breathing room, many of the aromatics could evaporate before they hit your nose. The smaller glass also keeps white wine colder for a longer period of time, which improves the flavor. I recommend buying about six standard white wine glasses, in addition to your six standard reds.

Sparkling Wine Glasses

Shape of the wine glass affect the taste of the wine

Credit: Wikimedia CC user Dan Kamminga

Some collectors choose to drink their Champagne out of a standard white wine glass, rather than a flute or a coupe. That’s because a standard wine glass provides enough space for the Champagne to breathe, and it won’t hide the flaws of a poorly-made wine. If you’re tasting a group of sparkling wines looking for the next bottle to add to your collection, you should consider drinking them all out of standard glasses so that their flaws aren’t hidden. If you’re simply drinking for pleasure, follow this glass guideline:

Coupe: The wide rim makes the bubbles disappear quickly. Only use this if you have a sweet, fruity sparkling wine that doesn’t rely on its bubbles for flavor.

Flute:  The shape of this wine glass preserves bubbles best, though it doesn’t let the wine breathe as much as a glass with a large bowl. You’ll enjoy dry sparkling wines most when you use this glass.

Tulip: The wider bowl releases more aromatics, so I recommend this style for vintage Champagne or rosé, like Cristal, with savory and fruity notes.

Fortified Wine Glasses

Shape of the wine glass affect the taste of the wine

Photo Credit: Wikimedia CC user Liz West

I’ve found that you can get away with serving most wines in either a red or white standard glass, however, fortified wines and dessert wines rely more heavily on glass shape for their aromatics and flavor quality. You usually can’t serve Port in a sherry glass because it’s too thick and intense for such a small glass. Here’s a guideline for how the shape of the wine glass affects the taste of the wine under the dessert category:

Port glass: Has a wide base that gives the bouquet space, but that tapers at the end to intensify the aroma in one spot.

Madeira glass: Has an even wider base than the Port glass, allowing the aroma to open up further and spread out more.

Sherry glass: Usually smaller than most other glasses, and shaped like an inverse pyramid. Sherry doesn’t need as much room as Port to breathe.   

Standard dessert wine glass: These look like standard white glasses, but are much smaller, which keeps the wine cold as you sip it and prevents the aromatics from evaporating too quickly.

Special Glasses for Classic Vintages

If you own dozens of bottles from a particular region, or you collect one varietal in particular, you should consider investing in a set of varietal-specific glasses. These glasses are designed to cater to your wine’s individual aromatics and ideal serving temperature. Here are a few examples:

Alsace: The extra long stem and small, wide bowl is designed to highlight the peachy, floral bouquet, bringing it closer to your nose.

Chardonnay: This glass is much wider than a standard white to bring out the aromas even further. An intense, aged wine like Bouchard Pere & Fils can handle this extra space.

Burgundy: A larger glass with a flared rim allows the aroma to collect at the base, then flare out again as it hits the nose. Use this for vintage DRC.

Bordeaux: These are the biggest glasses you’ll find on the market. The tall bowl allows the aroma to collect, yet it’s not wide enough to completely disperse the wine’s scent. Use this for a complex wine like Angelus.

For classic, fine vintages, it’s worth it to splurge on the perfect wine glass. While it may seem like just another piece of stemware, the perfect wine glass can mean the difference between a mediocre tasting and a transcendental experience.

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