Does the Glass Really Matter?

Any wine enthusiast, whether you're a collector of rare vintages or simply an aficionado of premium wine, will likely boast a selection of disparate glasses to sip from. Wine accessories do not begin and end with a rack, after all, and choosing the optimum vessel is believed to add to the experience of sampling a great magnum. Is this the case, or is the choice of wine glass irrelevant?

In truth, your choice of glass may influence your enjoyment, but it largely depends on what you value most from a bottle or magnum of wine. It is no secret that champagnes and sparkling wines pack the most punch when poured into a tall flute, as this narrow glass will retain carbonation for longer and ensure your celebratory beverage keeps its pleasant fizz. The optimum glass for red, white, or rosé wine is subject to a little more debate. 

Within reason, your first concern should be finding a wine glass that you feel comfortable handling and enjoy drinking from. If you choose a glass that is too large or small for your grasp, or too refined and delicate to allow you to relax through fear of breakage, you will detract from the experience that a great magnum or bottle of wine can provide. While we will never condone adding an aged Merlot to a porcelain coffee cup, do focus on a vessel that meets your needs. 

As a rule, white and rosé wines benefit more from a taller stem. These wines are best enjoyed chilled, so a longer stem will keep your palm and fingers further from the bowl. Consequently, you are considerably less likely to transfer body heat to the wine itself, maintaining the perfect temperature.

Consider a glass with a smaller bowl atop the long stem if you enjoy a more acidic white or rosé, such as a Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. This will influence the nose of the wine, restricting airflow and ensuring that any aroma maintains the desired effect while directing the contents of the glass to the centre of the palate. Whites and rosés with a fuller body and higher alcohol content, notably Chardonnays, benefit more from a wider bowl. This allows the flavours of such a wine to breathe and encourages you to savour every drop while preventing the nose from growing overpowering.

Red wine experts are likelier to have a wide array of glasses to choose from, with various vessels considered ideal for different drinking experiences. In many respects, however, these glasses – of which the length of the stem is less of a concern – will come under one of three categories. The optimum glass will depend on whether your choice of red is full-, medium-, or light-bodied.

The perfect choice for a full-bodied red wine is, fittingly, described as a Bordeaux glass. These glasses have the largest bowl with a tulip-shaped rim and typically contain the smallest serving. The purpose of this approach is to allow the wine to breathe, releasing the distinctive aroma. After all, the first sip of a Cabernet Sauvignon or Petit Sirah is often taken with the nose. These larger, wider bowls will also encourage a smoother sensation on the palate. 

Glasses assigned to medium-bodied wines are often simply described as "red wine glasses." These choices will have a slightly smaller bowl than a Bordeaux and are comparable to a Chardonnay glass at a glance. A traditional red wine glass will often soften some of the spice in your magnum or bottle, especially if you enjoy an older vintage.

The most petite wine glass typically associated with red wine is the Burgundy. Also ideal for full-bodied white and rosé wine, a Burgundy glass is perfect for a Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, or Syrah. As a rule, any dark or aged red that matches complexity on the palate with a slightly lower alcohol content will benefit most from a Burgundy glass - the wide bowl will allow aromas to escape while simultaneously softening tannins.

So, allow us to return to the question that prompted this missive – does your choice of wine glass matter? While it is indisputable that different vessels can have an influence on wine, you will not necessarily need a collection that numbers triple figures.

Be aware that the most high-end wine glasses on the market cannot mask the taste of inferior contents, but one or two superior all-rounder glasses will meet the needs of most consumers. If in doubt, seek a set of glasses with a moderate stem and choose a size that appeals most to your sensibilities – a narrow bowl if you prefer a more dry, acidic wine or a wider vessel if you frequently seek a more full-bodied taste sensation.