You’ve been shopping for wines and spirits and stocking up on an array of reds, whites, and sparklings for your wine rack plus a few choice bottles of your favourite spirits for your shelves. If you haven’t already, you’ll soon start thinking about what stemware to use for each bevvy and if using the right glass really matters. Why are glasses for Malbec, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon larger than those for Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Riesling? Why is a bubbly glass tall and thin and a port glass relatively small?
Well, of course the world isn’t going to fall down if you don’t use the designated glass for each drink and it will still taste fine. However, some savvy has gone into wine glass design and it’s worth knowing about it because your drinking experience for each category can be enhanced with the right one.
Quality red wines are generally (but not always) more complex than white wines. This is because of the characteristics in black grapes like tannin and flavour compounds plus the steps they go through in the winery. Owing to above, in each glass of good-standard red wine, there are a host of aromas and flavours waiting to be unlocked. This explains why you can see some red wine glasses with very large bowls and where chemistry comes into the equation. The science behind the larger glass for reds is to allow a greater surface area for the wine allowing increased air contact and release of all those fine locked up qualities.
This means more enjoyment for you!
Generally speaking, white wines are more about expressing the clean, pure fruitiness of the particular varietal. When you’re choosing wines and spirits the type of grape in the bottle is what makes you choose one label over another.
This focus is seen in the winery where white wines tend to have a different treatment to reds because the aim is to highlight the fruity notes. Fermentation takes place at a lower temperature for example to preserve the grape’s flavour characters and many don’t undergo steps red wines do, for the same reason.
So, if fruitiness is the hallmark of a white wine, it stands to reason that the glass designed for it would enhance this – and it does. White wine glasses are smaller than those for reds in order to direct the fresh, fruit characteristics up to the top of the glass where you’ll detect them right away. The same goes for rosé wines which have a similar aroma and flavour delicacy to whites. Cin cin!
Champagne flutes (which suit any kind of bubbly) are so designed in order to make the most of this style of wine’s special feature: bubbles.
In a long, narrow glass, the bubbles have more wine to travel through as they journey upward to burst on the surface of the fizz. This way, they go through more of the wine and carry more of its aroma which explodes in the pretty froth on the top of a glass of sparkling right where you can smell and enjoy it.
Fortified wines like port and sherry suit smaller glasses for two main reasons. Firstly, the aromatics of these wines are strong and vibrant and one of the most important reasons we enjoy them. In a small glass these can be concentrated and more pleasing.
Secondly, the alcohol content in these wines is so high (around 18.5% ABV and above) that it makes sense to have a smaller portion glass for it.
While you can always savour a wine’s special characteristics in a one-size-fits-all glass, homing in on the right receptacle will give you more to appreciate. A lot of work has gone into that red or white you’re swirling so why not use the right glass as the final step in a long production process so that it expresses itself to perfection? Cheers!