I played cello in an orchestra for seven years, and my right hand grew accustomed to holding a bow. Later, when I started collecting wine, I realized that the proper way to hold a wine glass is almost identical to the way I hold a cello bow. My music teacher taught me to pinch my thumb and fingers around the base of the cello bow, and to lightly rest my pointer finger higher up on the instrument. Years later, when I started drinking wine, my hands naturally went into this same position on the glass. Keeping most of my fingers at the bottom of the stem helped keep the wine stable as I took a drink, while my resting pointer finger helped me control the swirl and tilt of the glass.
Although I found this method the easiest to use, there are other ways to hold a wine glass, depending on the type of wine you’re drinking, the occasion, and the glass itself.
When to Hold Your Wine by the Stem
When in doubt, you should always hold your wine glass by the stem and avoid touching the bowl. This has three practical benefits that can greatly impact your wine drinking experience.
Stems Keep Temperature Steady
The main reason why most wine glasses have long stems is to prevent your body heat from coming into contact with perfectly-chilled wine. Your hands reach an average of 98.6 degrees, however, the best serving temperature for wine ranges from 40 to 65 degrees. When your palm touches the outside of the bowl, your wine quickly rises in temperature, and this will cause a change in flavor. If you care about the temperature of your wine, keeping your fingers pinched around the stem is the only proper way to hold a wine glass.
Stems Make Swirling Easier
If you’ve ever tried to swirl a wine glass with your fingers wrapped around the bowl, you’ll know that this can be a messy method. I find that I have less control over the liquid inside of the glass when I put my hands around the bowl; the result is spilled wine. When you steady your fingers around the stem instead, you’re forced to make smaller motions to swirl your glass, and it doesn’t take as much physical effort to get the liquid inside to move. Better swirls mean that more aromatic compounds reach the upper bowl of the glass where your nose can detect them more easily.
You Avoid Fingerprints
Excessive fingerprints can actually obscure your wine’s color. When tasting wine, it’s important to look carefully at the gradation of color in the glass, which is why professional tasters only use clear, clean stemware. For instance, a mature glass of Leroy will have a great deal of color variation in the glass, which is a sign of proper aging. It will have a red-orange color, with an opaque center and a thin, lighter orangey hue around the edge of the glass. If fingerprints cloud your view of the wine inside, seeing this subtle change in color will be far more difficult.
When to Hold Your Wine by the Bowl
Holding your wine by the bowl is acceptable if you’re experimenting with the wine’s temperature. On rare occasions, you might chill your wine too much, which will cause it to taste too astringent. In this case, it’s perfectly acceptable to wrap your palms around the wine to warm it up slightly. This is the only time when it’s useful to have a wine tumbler, rather than a stemmed glass.
Your Hand Position Depends on Your Goals
The specific placement of your fingers depends on how comfortable you are in each position and what you want to get out of your wine. Here are a few options:
The Bow Method
This is the option I use because it allows you to keep the glass steady between your pinched fingers. The top finger controls how far the glass tips back and forth. Use this method at parties that require a lot of standing, since you can easily hold a glass in this position without getting tired.
The Base Pinch
This technique allows you to swirl the glass more easily. Simply pinch your pointer finger and thumb together at the base of the stem. Hold your glass like this if you’re enjoying an aromatic wine like Georges Roumier Bonnes Mares.
The Full Tilt
This rare glass-holding technique involves putting your thumb on the foot of the glass and tilting the entire glass up to your nose. This method works best if you’re seated, since it’s not terribly stable. It allows you to see the color of your wine more easily, which is useful for colorful varietals like 1992 Leflaive aged Chardonnay.
Some glasses have long, thin stems, while others are shorter, but the proper way to hold a wine glass remains the same. As long as you keep your fingers from touching the bowl of the glass, you can adjust any of these methods to fit whichever glass you have.
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