It’s the Glass that Matters

Written by
Vintage Cellars
February 16, 2017
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The glass you choose can be as important as the wine itself. What you choose to drink your wine from can change your experience, so let’s look at why glassware is so important. We should perhaps refer to these vessels as stemware, although there is a new and burgeoning trend for glasses without stems too.

Wine is a beverage not merely for drinking, though that is, of course, its main purpose. Wine can also be enjoyed through smelling and viewing. Whilst these senses are perhaps Pavlovian in their use, they are a key element to enjoying wine, and winemakers put some effort into making sure the wine looks and smells good.

Keep it light

Stemware should be light, clean, clear and without clutter. The heavy, cut glass, ornate versions are useful in a period drama or when you’re inspired by the pre-lunch pouring in Mad Men, but for pure wine enjoyment, the less busy the better. You shouldn’t need a heavyweight title to be able to the lift the glass to your lips.

Stay in shape

The key to a good wine glass is the shape. The bottom of the glass should be wider than the mouth. The reason for this is so the smells circulate inside. Imagine a martini glass: the sharp aromas are incredibly hard to capture, and when you swirl the glass to bring the fragrance out, the wine is likely to spill everywhere. The length of the barrel, referring to the length of the glass, is also a consideration. Some wines, like Shiraz, express themselves at a point higher above the surface of the wine. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, for example, resonate lower down. If you look at the Riedel versions of these glasses, you will see vastly different barrel lengths. 

It’s hard not to sound pretentious when we look into the reasons why stemware is important, but a basic understanding goes a long way. The size of the opening, or mouth (of the glass - not yours!), also plays a role. The smaller the hole, the more focused the wine is when it hits your tongue, primarily hitting the middle. The wider the mouth is, the more of the tongue it hits, accentuating characteristics, particularly the acidity.

Begin a glass collection

If you have an enormous glass cabinet in your house and the desire to spend a good amount of time washing glasses, then have a different glass for each type of grape. If you don’t, then get a few all-rounders. Champagne is an obvious inclusion and the Riedel Overture flute is a beautiful glass to hold your bubbles. It lets you watch the bead as it floats up the length of the glass, but it is not narrow as to diminish the aroma of the wine altogether, something that many cheaper flutes do. If you only want one glass, and one that is sturdy, Plumm make a glass that works well for both red and white wine. Designed in Melbourne, it is a terrific glass for everyday use for many different grapes.

Riedel Magnum is a much bigger and more generous glass, and they too can cater for most grapes with ease. For the efficient drinker and reluctant glass polisher, a champagne flute and an all-rounder should satisfy most cabinets and cut down on washing, too.

If you wish to buy the very finest, lightest and most exquisite stemware, then it is hard to beat Zalto. Made in Austria, these glasses are not cheap, but they give the closest connection to a glass of wine of anything in the world.

Fill level

It might sound silly to pour a small amount of wine in the glass, but it is a good rule of thumb to not pour the wine past the fattest part of the bowl. This allows for lots of swirling to release the flavours, and also for the glass to focus the aromas to exactly where they are designed.

Handle with care

In most cases, stemware nowadays does not contain lead, which means they will not get cloudy over time. The dishwasher is the best way to care for them too, as it reduces the amount of handling. Just make sure the glasses will not fall over during the cycle, as this is a common means of breakage. When polishing the glass, from the cheapest to the most expensive, never hold the foot of the mouth and twist. This action puts far too much torque on the glass and will invariably result in a broken glass - and at times a cut hand. A microfiber cloth is ideal to keep everything shiny, but a clean, non-fibrous tea towel will also do the job after a drip-dry.

If you have ever spent a few days camping, reluctantly drinking vino from plastic cups, you will understand how this type of vessel will change your drinking experience. Not all wines will taste amazing from the right glass, but they will almost certainly improve your experience.