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How To Choose The Right Wine Glass For Your Wine
You can’t make good wine from poor grapes. However, bad wine can be made from good grapes. The same principle applies to wine glasses. A good wine will always taste great from a good glass, but you can affect the taste of the wine if you use wrong glass.
Before snobbery infected the relationship between wine and food, wine was considered food. Then it became art and you needed to follow certain protocols to receive maximum enjoyment from it. The protocols quite naturally included choosing the right glass. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
A wine glass is more than just a vessel in which the wine rests until you are ready to drink it. The optimum way of enjoying a glass of wine is connected to the quality of the glass and the shape of the bowl. You don’t need a whole ‘wardrobe’ of glassware, four styles of glass are sufficient; however, if you can afford it, different glasses for different styles do actually make a difference.
Over the past three decades, glassware manufacturers have spent a lot of money on research to find out the shape of the ultimate wineglass: the shape of the bowl, the size, and the fineness of the glass have all been studied.
Wine as Art
In the beginning was the glass. Any glass. No distinction was needed between water glasses and wine glasses. Then came the stem. That signaled the beginning of a long evolution of design that continues to the present. The notion of the stem arose from the fact that wine is often prettier than water and using a glass that displays the wine in a bowl separated from nasty smudges and fingerprints was the first step toward thinking of wine as art.
The Beginning of Wine Glass Shapes
The first giant leap forward in the evolution of the wine glass after the universal adoption of the stem was the refinement of the bowl shape in 1951 by the French firm Baccarat. This very thin and elegant wineglass introduced the tulip-shaped bowl which would dominate virtually all wine stemware to the present. Beautiful as these “Perfection” glasses were, they had two faults that would not be significantly improved on for decades: the bowl held only 8 ounces and the sides of the bowl were straight, disallowing the vigorous swirling that is necessary to permit the wine to sing.
The Contribution of the Riedel Company
Even as late as the 1990s improperly sized and shaped wine glassware appeared on the shelves of the most upscale stores. Many were very attractive, but flawed in ways that had deleterious effects on the full enjoyment of wine. But a white knight was soon to rescue us from wine misery. The movement to perfect the wineglass had already begun in Europe. Claus Riedel began promoting his company’s uniquely-designed stemware as early as 1961, just 10 years after Baccarat’s failed design. Riedel not only attempted to perfect the shape of a general-purpose wineglass; he was the first producer to suggest that many slightly different shapes and sizes were needed to complement the wide spectrum of wine varieties. You needed a different volume and shape for Chardonnay than for Riesling. (The Chardonnay glass is larger and wider.) Champagne needed a special shape to highlight its unique bubbly texture. (This notion turns out to be wrong in the opinion of many Champagne producers.)
The notion pioneered by the Riedel company dominated the wine glassware scene until other companies—Schott, Bormioli, Spiegelau and others—offered similar lines of glassware, varying only slightly from the Riedel designs and offered at lower prices. Most modern glassware firms offer two or more lines: Riedel offers the popular no-nonsense “Vinum” line in addition to its top-of-the-line “Sommelier” line. Some very respectable firms offer a line of sharply angled bowls that provide an artsy alternative to standard shapes. And some offer a line with reverse curves at the lip. All of these alternative shapes give lie to the notion that there is an ideal shape for a specific variety.
Perhaps the most notable recent development in the evolution of wine glassware is in the material itself. Lead crystal has always been the material of choice for the finest glassware. But because of the widespread fear that minute quantities of toxic lead might leach into the wine, today’s glassmakers are developing alternatives. The Italian firm of Luigi Bormioli substitutes barium for the lead to produce a glass of outstanding clarity and feel. And many of their shapes mimic the Riedel designs very closely.
It was easy to ensure that the color of the wine was correct, so they moved directly to the aromas. Have you ever tried that old trick of eating a slice of apple and a slice of pear blindfolded and holding your nose? If you eat the pear when it’s fairly crisp, it’s very difficult to tell whether it is the pear or the apple. The blindfold just prevents you from knowing what you’re eating, but holding your nose prevents your sense of smell working and nullifies any aromas from the two fruits, making it impossible to tell the difference between the two. Try it if you’ve never done it, you’ll be surprised.
With wine, every different variety and style gives off subtle nuances that add to the pleasure of the wine. White wines can have tropical fruits, limes, or even a flinty mineral flavor. Red wines can show violets, leather, tobacco, and raspberry jam, as well as many other aromas. How do you capture these aromas so that they stick around long enough to enhance your enjoyment?
What to look for in a wine glass
The first was to change the shape of glassware. Instead of being flared at the top, they changed and tapered in at the rim. Sparkling wine glasses underwent the biggest change; instead of the ‘coupe’ (an open bowl on a stem), they became flutes – a longer taller glass with a tapered rim that allows the ‘perlage or mousse’ to remain in the glass instead of effervescing out. The deepest point of the glass should have a ‘moussier’ ground in, (a pin-dot similar in principle to an active beer glass), that allows the bubbles to keep on breaking and rising to the top. The old-style allowed the bubbles to rise, but aromas soon disappeared.
White wine should be served in a medium-sized tulip-shaped bowl. The widest point of the glass should be approximately one third to halfway up from where the glass joins the stem. This allows the aromas to remain in the glass. White wine has a more delicate structure than a red. Therefore, the glasses are smaller.
A glass of red wine, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, can be very robust and requires a larger glass. Basically the same shape, it allows the aromas more room to float and the wine allowed to breathe, important with older and more important wines. They should be eight to ten centimeters at their widest part, and the bowl should be wider approximately one third to halfway up from the stem.
The glasses should all have thin walls as glass transfers warmth to wine. If you’re drinking a chilled white wine or rosé, this will have an effect on the wine, and besides, finer glassware feels better on the mouth.
Care of wine glasses
One thing to remember when using the glassware, make sure you rinse them properly when washing. A glass of wine can be spoiled by detergent left in the glass. Only use the smallest amount and rinse well. Another point is to store the glasses upright and never leave them in cardboard boxes if possible. Don’t do it unless you’re prepared to get the glasses out, wash them, and leave them out for a short period before using them.
Wine glasses also make for an excellent gift idea for the wine lover in your life. Be sure to sneak a peek at which wine glasses they may need to add to their collection before making your purchase. But trust me, they will appreciate the new glasses to enjoy their wine.