I’ve consumed wine in just about every sort of vessel, from paper cups, plastic wine glasses mason jars and all sort of fancy wine goblets. I’m even old enough to remember when a wine glass was small and only came in one shape. So the real question — does it really make a difference what sort of glass you use to drink wine? I actually did a lot of research into this question and will try to makes some sense out of what at first seems like a huge marketing ploy by the glass and crystal manufacturers of the world. I’ll try to provide some unbiased perspective and then provide enough information to help readers decide what’s right for their wine consuming pleasure.
I’ve concluded that the type of glass you use really depends on what you want out of the wine experience. There are some authors on the subject that make a big deal out of shape and believe that modern glass designs funnel the wine to the correct part of the tongue to get the greatest impact out of the sensory aspects of each individual wine. As near as I can tell there is now scientific basis for this claim, but it sounds good for those that want to impress as part of the wine experience. For the most part glasses come in four basic shapes, Red (bigger and rounder), White (smaller with narrow mouths), Sparkling (tall and slender), and Desert (really small); two basic styles, goblets and tumblers, made from two basic materials crystal and glass. There you have it what else do we need to know? actually not much, but there is a lot out there to learn and some of it is actually pretty interesting.
Material: The debate about crystal or glass spans from snob appeal to actual functionality. Glass is cheaper and more durable, but crystal (yes lead crystal) can be shaped much thinner and on a micro level it has a much more open cell structure that some believe actually allow the wine to breath (oxidize) more quickly providing a more pleasing wine drinking experience in today’s impatient world. For those of us that like to focus on the a wines color, crystal will provide more refraction and allow for easier definition of color differences between wine. Personally, I drink wine and don’t spend a lot of time contemplating it except when I actually review it so this aspect of crystal is pretty much not a factor for me. Oh, I forgot plastic! I never use the stuff unless I am at a really lowbrow affair somewhere and any kind of a glass vessel is not available. I am not wine snob but even I try to draw a line somewhere and plastic is below that line.
Size: Here I do think we may really see some differences. Red Wines as a general rule have more aroma or bouquet and being able to get your nose down in the glass, especially right after it’s poured makes a difference to some who really enjoy the nose of a wine as much as the taste. In addition bigger, rounder glasses (bowls to some) provide more breathing surface and allow oxidization to occur more quickly and provide a better wine drinking experience. White Glasses tend to be smaller and have narrower openings. This in part impedes the oxidization which most deem desirable for all except the oakiest of Chardonnays. I also believe that it requires them to be filled more often and as most of us like our white wines chilled it lets us consume the glass quantity more quickly and thus keeping the wine in the glass colder as we refill. Sparkling Wine Glasses have come a long way from what we call sorbet goblets of old to the modern flutes. From a sensory perspective each has it’s advantages, but I personally prefer flutes as the mouth of the glass is as wide as the widest part of the glass and allows for the concentration of the bubbles into a smaller opening to tickle my nose (just kidding) and does a better job of retaining the wines natural bubbles in the glass longer. Desert Wine Glasses come in several shapes, but generally are tiny by comparison to the bigger red and white glass. Most intend to hold only one to two ounces of wine at a pour and focus more on taste rather than presenting bouquet. For most these glasses are a luxury. A small amount of dessert wine poured in a sparkling wine flute or a small white wine glass works just fine.
Style: Most agree that this is the least significant part of the wine glass decision process and also agree that tumblers present a casualness and goblets a flair that pretty well defines their respective place at the table. I for one have more of both than I can use and I almost always default to the tumblers. My reasoning is simple — I am a bit of klutz and I am less likely to spill a tumbler of wine (especially red wine) all over my wife’s really old and elegant linen table cloths. Seriously, most of my wine consumption is not at fancy dinners but rather in my study/wine room or around an everyday dinner table. When I was young and poor as, opposed to old and a little less poor , my wine glasses consisted of pint mason jars for red wines and half-pints for whites — not kidding. I still use them today as Bar-BQ barware for the patio and the deck. They are perfectly functional and make for good conversation around a hot outside grill. I must digress and tell you all to type “redneck wine glasses” into your browser when you finish this blog. It may surprise you what you see yep — mason jars with stems, for those fancy occasions when plain mason jars just won’t do.
The ultimate question of what you really need to enjoy wine is very personal and I am not going to try to help with that. If you are just beginning to enjoy wine, keep it simple until you find how and when you drink most of your wine and the kinds you really like. You can invest in Riedel or Eiche crystal (about $50.00 per pair) and spend a fortune if you get the whole varietal series of both tumblers and goblets, or you can hit our local bar supply house or superstore and get a set of four each, red, white and sparkling for about the price of two crystal glasses. In the alternative you can hit the grocery store and buy a six pack of mason jars (pint and half-pint) for about the same price. It’s all about you style and what you feel comfortable with. Personally I use tumblers most of the time and I really enjoy them. The nose and taste is important to me as is the feel of the glass as I sit and enjoy a relaxing glass of wine while reading a book or in casual conversation at the dinner table, so I opt for what makes me comfortable in the particular setting. Remember that those of you who are not antique like me have a lifetime to collect the set of wine glasses you want to be drinking from when your kids get ready to inherit them.
So, some information and no real answers. Get on the internet and check out wine glass outlets (many to choose from) and Wikipedia which has a great article on the history of wine glasses. The internet actually has a wealth of information on this subject if you dig. Enjoy the journey as you discover what type, style and shapes meet your needs and desires. In the end, you will not be wrong with any choice you make. after all it’s you who must drink form the glass and enjoy the wine.