Vineyards & Wine

Does the Right Wine Glass Really Make a Difference?

From flutes to stemless bowls and everything in between, experts explain how you can get the most from your wine collection by using the ideal glass

Stemmed or stemless, bowl vs. Bordeaux… wine drinkers have always debated the merits of a certain glass, but is the difference really that pronounced? According to the experts: yes. “The experience of wine involves almost all of our senses, and good glassware helps to elevate each of these,” says San Francisco-based master sommelier Morgan Harris. “It doesn’t change anything chemically about the wine, it just provides the best window into seeing what the wine offers.”

Whether you’re watching the elegant bead of bubbles rise through golden, vintage champagne or admiring the ruby hue of a fine Bordeaux, experts agree it’s always worth doing so with an excellent, well-made stem in hand.

Various glasses with wine, prosecco and champagne
No matter which glass you choose to buy, say the experts, the ones that work best have stems. Ideal for swirling wine to release its aromas, stems also prevent your hand from warming the bulb of the glass. Image: Getty Images

The Anatomy of a Great Glass

The construction of a wine glass matters, because—like high-end stereo equipment or a perfectly tuned car—the craftsmanship enhances the overall experience from start to finish.

“The only piece of equipment used to appreciate wine is the glass,” explains David Kong, the founder and CEO of the New York-based glassware company Glasvin. “Handblown glasses are one single piece, which is thinner, lighter, and more malleable—all things that improve the drinking experience.”

At its simplest, a good wine glass should be large enough to hold a standard serving (roughly five ounces or 150 milliliters) while leaving ample room to swirl the wine, releasing its complex aromatic compounds. Both handblown crystal and machine-made glasses can easily accomplish this, as can stemless tumblers. For the sake of wine appreciation however, a glass with a stem and higher-end handblown crystal are recommended by experts across the industry.

“Our wine glasses weigh less than a standard pour of wine,” says Kong. “Which tells you just how light a glass can be. We want you to forget that it’s in your hand unless you’re looking at it.”

Four wine glasses in the Glasvin range by David Kong
The Glasvin range, designed by David Kong, is handblown to ensure it feels effortlessly light in your fingertips. “When you're drinking out of them, you're thinking more about the wine and the people you're with, not the glass itself,” Kong explains.

In a practical sense, the size and shape of the glass bowl is the most obvious differentiator among wine glasses. The wide, apple-like shape of traditional Burgundy bowls or the more cylindrical aspect of all-purpose glassware impacts how the wine moves in a glass—and as a result how the aromatics are released.

“In terms of what matters in the shape from an aromatic perspective, the ratio between the widest and most slender section of the glass is the most important,” says Kong. “This combination determines the level of aeration the wine gets in the glass, and changes the intensity based on how much the glass closes at the top.”

Using a glass with a stem, as opposed to a stemless tumbler, also allows the wine to shine because it prevents the transfer of body heat to the drink. As a result, the wine remains at an ideal temperature rather than warming to the point where its flavors and aromatics are muted.

“When it comes to the stem, it should be thin enough that your fingers can join imperceptibly,”  says Kong. “We make our glass stems 4.5 millimeters in diameter. At even 5.5 millimeters, you begin to notice the stem size and that starts taking attention away from the wine.”

Wine expert and author Dr. Jamie Goode also notes the importance of choosing a glass that’s visually appealing. “The fact that you’re drinking out of something nice enhances your sensory experience, and thus your experience of the wine,” he says.

Three white wine glasses being clinked together
Glasses that widen at the midpoint allow a wine’s aromatics to be released, while their smaller tops help to concentrate the bouquet—ideal for wines such as Riesling. Image: Matthieu Joannon, Unsplash

Picking the Perfect Glass

At its best, a great wine glass will showcase a wine’s color, enliven its aromatics, and allow its flavors to shine. Matching each wine to the ideal glass for its unique nuance depends on the grape variety or blend of each wine.

“Very aromatic wines such as Riesling, Muscat, Gewürztraminer, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir, and Grenache often appreciate a glass with a wider mid-point,” explains Harris. These wide glasses provide a greater surface area for a wine’s aromatics to be released, which are then funneled toward the top of the glass to be appreciated—ideal as highly aromatic wines can come across as dull or one-note when served in smaller glasses.

“More savory and non-aromatic wines, especially reds with thick skins, are enhanced by a taller, skinnier glass,” says Harris, highlighting Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Pinot Grigio, and Grüner Veltliner as optimal for taller glasses. These provide plenty of room for aeration without a funnel shape, reducing the perception of tannins to make young red wines taste smoother and more supple.

When it comes to champagne and sparkling wines however, Harris leans away from stylish flutes and instead recommends reaching for a traditional, all-purpose glass to best appreciate the nuances and flavor. “If it’s good champagne, then it’ll have powerful aromatics, and will be best served in a larger glass.“

Tulip shaped champagne glasses
Eschew more traditional flutes and instead serve champagne or sparkling wine in a tulip glass, which widens at the top and allows the bubbles and aromas to develop in full. Image: Deleece Cook, Unsplash

Stocking Your Shelf

Complementing the myriad flavors and aromatic nuances of all wines has led large glassware manufacturers such as Riedel to produce a dizzying array of glass styles, but most experts agree a simple collection with featuring bowl and all-purpose or cylindrical glasses is enough to appreciate any wine.

We don’t make 100 different shapes because the difference between glasses is minimal once you’re using good glass to start,” says Kong, whose company manufacturers just three glass styles.

Most importantly, according to Goode, “Wine is about enjoyment. If you really don’t get on with a glass, you won’t like the wine as much—use trial and error to find the glass you prefer.”

Banner image: Alamy