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The Wine Glass FAQ

13 May

The questions often come mid-conversation: “What about wine glasses? Do they matter? What is with those funky shaped ones I’ve seen?” As I’ve been answering the same questions to several acquaintances, that tells me it’s time to write a post on this topic. Here’s my wine glass FAQ:

• Wine glasses add to the experience of tasting and pairing by helping to deliver the wine well -much like the tires and suspension do for luxury car engines- except that wine glasses work in terms of color, flavor, nose, and temperature. You want a thin-walled, perfectly clear, stemmed glass as a starting point.

• Next, for all intents and purposes, you can ignore the legs (or tears, as the French say) unless you enjoy the process, as they offer little ‘real’ value in examining or enjoying wine. If you do’t know what wine ‘legs’ or ‘tears’ are, the term refers to the tiny wine streams that run down the glass back into the wine after swirling in the glass. While legs _can_ be used to indicate the alcohol content in a wine, they also change based on surface tension in the wine and it’s my experience that the adage, ‘the greater the legs, the greater the wine” is hogwash, plain and simple. You can reduce legs by covering the glass with your hand (simple physics, really) which changes the surface tension. Moving on…

• For white wines, the taller, more narrow glass helps keep the wine at its colder temperature which is ideally served around 50°F. Also, the narrow rim helps project the subtle scents of white wines to your nose for enjoyment. Finally the tall rim allows you to view the color of the concentrated wine well by presenting more of its volume to your eye.

• For reds, ideally you want a larger, rounder bowl with a wide opening to enjoy the rich and complex flavors found in red wines.  Shallower bowls won’t hold a cold temperature but reds are ideally served around 65°F. The wide bowl allows the wine to have more exposure to oxygen, important to the development of complex nose, flavor, and finish. This type of glass also aids inspection when turning the glass on its side to examine the color- to see the true shades of the wine, and inspect the edges for browning in older wines.  For softer red like pinot noir, a teardrop glass is ideal: bottoms are wider and the rims narrow to allow maximum aeration and capture of the perfume.

• Do wine glasses matter? Only in the drinker’s appreciation of them, which is why restaurants pay close attention to detail here. Restaurants put great care into glass detail so that you will get maximum appreciation of an expensive choice. They (should) insure the wine has been kept at the proper temperature, stored well, and is uncorked and served properly. So why not do that at home? Using proper care for temp, storing, and serving only serves to increase the appreciation of highly specialized creations, and that in itself is worth the pomp and circumstance, much like the tea ritual. Have you noticed the incredible detail that the beer maker Stella has with it’s glassware, proper pour and serving? They haven’t missed a trick in how to insure the drinker appreciates the product fully.

• What is with those funky shaped glasses? The stemless glassware popular from Fusion, Reidel and Spiegelau are beautiful to behold, as modern works of art, and practical glassware. The stem is the most often broken part of a glass, and stemless glasses are less likely to be knocked over. The removal of the stem makes the wine enjoyable in another fashion, while making it harder to judge color well and causing the wine to lose temperature and warm too quickly.  I love my stemless glasses that allow me to enjoy the nose more, but I don’t use them at dinner parties.

• What do I do personally? Well, honestly we have more glasses than we use or need at my home. I have two sets of every day wine glasses – one Bordeaux-type glass which is perfect for most whites, and a pinot noir set. I have a pair of Reidel O pinot noir glasses that are ideal for my forensic criticism of color and the elusive olfactory qualities of some wines. Most of the pictures I’ve taken from our home use the pinor noir stemmed glasses. For our formal dinnerware, we have a set of apertif crystal that is barely used, fancy champagne glasses that are barely used, and Bordeaux-style wine glasses that are heavily used for both reds and whites of all types. But the fancy crystal is lovely to use several times a year, and we enjoy it wholeheartedly.

This is what I suggest to wine drinkers who ask what kind of glasses they need: one style a glass, the basic red “Bordeaux” wine glass (like the one on the right) should serve for 95% of their needs. Unless you’re a sommelier, you need only supply more types of glasses as you require them. If I were to take you wine glass shopping and we saw an array like the one at the top of this blog post, I’d suggest you choose either the third glass from the right OR the third from the left, whichever would complement your households glassware and your hand. Both are the right shape, -and while some wine glass designs are very specific for the wine or grape,  how much bouquet they can deliver to the nose and how the wine is delivered to the mouth-  the one three from the left is simply just a slightly larger version from the one that is third from the right in that group.

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