I was skeptical when I first heard that a wine will taste different depending on the shape of glass in which it is served. After all, it is still the same wine, no matter how it gets to your mouth.
Then I attended a glassware seminar, and I am now a believer.
It is true that a glass cannot change a wine. But I have discovered that a glass can enhance and promote the wine’s best characteristics.
Here’s what happens. Think of the wine in your glass as a river as it flows out of the glass. The shape of the glass will define the direction of that river. The glass has the power to turn that river into a wide Mississippi that just keeps rolling along, dispersing the wine onto your tongue like a big delta. Or that glass can take the river and funnel it into a small concentrated stream that will stay direct and focused and hit only the middle of your tongue.
Now, this is the reason why the shape of the “wine river” coming out of your glass is so important. The human tongue is made up of sensory units called taste buds. The concentration of the sweet ones are up front, the sour guys are mostly on the sides, and the bitter and salt are towards the back. Although that is the simplified version, it is ultimately the arrangement of these taste buds that matter in wine appreciation.
For example, wines with lots of acidity, or “tartness,” should be served in a glass that will accentuate the fruit to balance the tart (sour). A glass can do that by directing the flow of wine to the front and center of your tongue where you taste “sweet” or fruit. The glass should steer the wine away from the sides of your mouth where it would over-emphasize the sourness. The glasses will be larger at the bottom and smaller towards the top to focus that river.
On the other hand, a wine with very little acidity (sourness), but lots of fruit and dry tannin (bitter) should be served in a glass that will direct the flow of wine towards the sides of your mouth—adding tartness to balance the fruit and tame the tannins. The glasses will have wider openings to let the river spread wide.
The wine glass has the ability to bring out the wine’s best attributes. It has the power to help that wine taste the absolute best that it can be.
When choosing the right wine glass to use at home, it doesn’t have to be an ultra complicated decision. You do not have to purchase a unique set of glasses for every different style of wine on the planet. You can just purchase an “all-purpose” wine glass. It will dispense sparklers, whites, and reds and will probably last you for years without protest. Good enough.
Warning: Read on ONLY if you are keen on learning more about wine and ultimately spending more money.
Here’s the real deal. Simply think about the kind of wine that you like to drink, or as I like to say, “go to your happy place.” If you prefer a fuller-bodied Chardonnay to a delicate Riesling, then buy Chardonnay glasses (yes, they are a different shape). If you prefer an elegant, mouth-watering Pinot Noir over a monster red Cabernet Sauvignon, then you know what to do. Go with the Pinot glass. Your wine will taste better.
Remember, these glasses are scientifically designed for that specific wine, and who are we to argue with the glass technology specialists? Look for the wine glasses that are labeled for the wines that they serve best. As you become more diversified, don’t panic. These glasses can also work for other wines that share similar characteristics. For example, a Chianti that has good acidity would taste fine in a Pinot Noir glass.
Also, take notice of the rim (top edge of the glass). This can be a key factor in the “delivery” of wine to your palate. As that river of wine is being delivered to your tongue, it doesn’t need any obstacles in its way. The rim of the glass should be thin and polished. A thin “cut” rim allows the wine to flow smoothly and evenly from the glass to your palate. Glasses with thick, rolled rims present a barrier to the flow of the wine, causing a “dam” effect. The wine builds up until it breaks over the rim and pours into the mouth in one big rush. This means the wine will miss the “sweet” taste buds at the front of the tongue, and hit the “bitter” and “acidic” sensors first.
Once you have a good glass, another thing to remember is that it should never be filled to the top. A glass should be filled only to the widest diameter point of its bowl. This ensures maximum development of the wine’s bouquet in the glass. It also allows for adequate “swirling” space to release the aromas of the wine before drinking. And appreciating the aromas of a wine is just as enjoyable as drinking it. Don’t think of the glass as half empty. In this case, it is half full and at its best!