The Shape of a Wine Glass

With all the various styles and shapes of wine glasses on the market, you might be tempted to throw up your hands and just buy the most generic you can find. Does shape really matter?

If you’re enjoying a glass in a casual setting with friends and family and raucous conversation, then probably not. If you’re trying to capture all the subtle nuances of a 2005 Burgundy, then yes.

The Riedel “Sommelier” collection with its myriad shapes is overkill for all but the most – well, sommelier types. Still, it can only enhance your wine experience to have at least two sets of glasses – one for reds and one for whites.

The differences in shape lie in how wide the bowl is and how much narrower the top is. White wine glasses are generally smaller and narrower than red wine glasses, so that the wine is consumed while it is still chilled. The wider bowl of a red wine glass exposes more wine to air, allowing aromas to accumulate in the bowl and softening tannins. The narrowing opening allows you to perceive those aromas. The size of the bowl determines how much liquid can be swirled, which in turn determines how much wine is exposed to air. Some experts also say that the shape of the rim directs the wine to specific areas of the tongue with different taste sensitivities.

Compared to a white wine glass, the bowl of a red wine glass will be fuller and rounder with a larger opening to allow you to dip your nose into the glass to detect aroma and allow a good swirl without spilling. The two main types of red wine glasses – Burgundy and Bordeaux – are designed to enhance wines of their respective namesakes. A Burgundy glass has a larger bowl so the aromas of lighter, more subtle reds, such as Pinot Noir, can accumulate and expand. A Bordeaux glass has a narrower opening and is designed for full-bodied reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

A white wine glass bowl is more upright with a narrower opening, and generally a smaller glass than a red wine glass. White wine glasses can be further divided into those for fuller whites such as Chardonnay and those for delicate whites such as Riesling. The Chardonnay glasses have a slightly larger bowl and a more pronounced narrowing of the opening. Glasses for delicate whites have a narrow bowl and a narrow opening.

Stemless wine glasses look chic and modern, but they defeat the purpose of a stem, which is to allow you to hold the glass without affected the wine. Stemware is also prettier, because your fingerprints don’t get all over the glasses. A champagne flute is upright and narrow to retain the bubbles. A dessert wine glass is smaller to direct the wine to the back of the mouth so the sweetness doesn’t overwhelm.

If you’re keeping it simple, get one set for red and one set for white. The Bordeaux and Chardonnay glasses will serve you just fine!