Drinking wine can be enjoyable no matter what glass, cup, or mug you use. Your preferences and the quality of the wine are what affect the taste the most. That said, the glass you use can enhance the wine’s taste and your overall experience drinking it.
If you’re looking to invest in some wine glasses, here are three things you should consider before you make your purchase.
The shape of the glass.
You certainly don’t need to rush out and buy five different types of glassware to match the five different types of wine you’ll be serving at your next tasting party. That said, the right glass for a particular type of wine really does affect how people experience it.
At least one scientific study bears this out. In 2015, Japanese researchers demonstrated that the shape of a wine glass affected the vapors emanating from the wine. Vapors are an important component of taste, since they deliver aromatic compounds to your nose. As a result, it seems to make sense to choose the best glass shape for the type of wine you’re drinking.
Of course, you can simply check the label on the glassware you’re buying. Many brands offer “red wine glasses” or “white wine glasses” and so forth. But here’s a little more explanation on why these glasses are shaped the way they are:
White wine: Glasses with narrower openings serve white wines well because they preserve the floral aromas white wines often have. They also help keep the liquid cool. Their smaller shape puts the aromas closer to your nose as well. Full-bodied whites, however, may taste better in a wider glass meant for a red.
Red wine: Red wines are usually served in larger, wider glasses than white wines. The name of the game here is softening the bitter tannin that reds have and mitigating any sharp, spicy notes. The wider surface area of a larger glass also allows more ethanol to evaporate, making for a smoother taste.
Sparkling wines: Champagne flutes are familiar to most people. These slim glasses preserve the bubbles in dry sparkling wines. Prosecco and rosés may taste better in a slightly wider, tulip-shaped glass, which allows the floral aromas to collect and deliver a headier smell to your nose. In either type of glass, a bowl that narrows to a point near the stem will channel the bubbles in a single stream upward.
Stem versus no stem.
Champagne flutes, by definition, always have a stem, but stemless wine glasses are a common sight in stores. There are many reasons to go stemless. For one, stemless glasses are less likely to tip over, since your wine isn’t sitting on a thin spindle of glass. They’re easier to store and transport—perfect for, say, a romantic picnic. Many people also simply like the modern, casual look of a stemless glass.
By the same token, other oenophiles appreciate the elegant, timeless profile of the traditional wine glass. Moreover, the stem on a wine glass really does have a functional purpose. The stem provides a place to hold the glass so that your hand won’t warm the temperature of the wine. A stem also helps when rotating wine, which aerates it and releases its aromas.
However, there are times when you may want to raise the temperature of the wine. For example, if you are serving a wine chilled and want to drink it when it’s a bit warmer, a stemless glass works well in this case.
Glass versus crystal.
When shopping for wine glasses, you have two choices of material: glass or crystal. Though both materials look similar, you can typically tell them apart because crystal is heavier than glass, and light that hits crystal will make a rainbow.
You can use a crystal wine glass to make music by wetting your finger and moving it around the rim of the glass. Crystal wine glasses also produce a more pleasing sound when clinked together.
On a structural level, crystal’s strength derives from the use of minerals—traditionally lead, though others are also used. Note that though crystal may contain lead, a crystal wine glass will not leach lead into your wine. It takes about a week for leaching to occur, and the wine won’t be in the glass long enough to absorb it.
The lead allows manufacturers to shape crystal into thinner, more intricately designed objects, including wine glasses with thinner walls. In contrast, a wine glass made of glass is typically thicker and has a lip on the rim that some people say detracts from their enjoyment of the wine.
Glass is slightly more opaque than crystal. Crystal gives you a better view of the wine inside your glass. However, glass is nonporous and is generally dishwasher-safe. By contrast, crystal is not usually dishwasher-safe, both because it is porous and because it is more delicate than glass.
Typically, crystal is considered the higher-quality option and is more expensive. However, whether you decide to use glass or crystal depends on how often you drink wine, how often you’re willing to hand-wash your dishes, and your budget.
If you have kids, pets, or are afraid of breaking glasses, you may wish to stick with the less-expensive option. Still, it can be nice to own a set of crystal wine glasses or flutes for special occasions.