Ever wondered why wine glasses come in so many different shapes? This article will explain how to go about choosing the right shape of glass for your favourite wine, why it matters — and why it’s fine to break the rules to suit your own preference.
Before getting into the types of wine glasses by varietal, an understanding of the parts of a wine glass and the purposes they serve will help you find the right vessel for your favourite vintage. From top to bottom, wine glasses are designed to elevate the drinking experience, giving each varietal its own distinct shape.
Elements of wine glass shapes
Simply put, the base of the wine glass, also known as the foot, keeps it balanced. A stemless wine glass does not have a distinct base; instead, it rests on the bottom of the bowl. Some modern wine glasses have an elongated sham — a thick layer of glass beneath the bowl — rather than a slender stem and flared foot. While shams are a common feature of highball and double old-fashioned glasses, they give wine glasses a sculptural silhouette.
The stem is the slender piece of glass that acts as a bridge between the bowl and the base. Holding a wine glass from the stem helps ensure your wine will taste the way it’s supposed to, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it keeps your body heat away from the bowl, meaning you’ll be able to drink the wine at its optimal temperature. Secondly, it puts distance between your hand and your nose as you sip. Because scents heavily influence taste, gripping a glass near the rim rather the base means that you might smell your own lotion or perfume as you taste your wine, interfering with your ability to take in the wine’s aroma. It’s best to grip it from the bottom of the stem and as close to the base as possible. Try to avoid cupping the bowl or holding near the rim.
The shape and size of the bowl affects how aromas are released and collected. To get a proper swirl, pour wine to roughly one-third of the bowl’s height. Swirl the wine to release its aromas, drawing your nose to the glass after swirling and before sipping. For bold reds, it’s best to look for a large glass that can aerate and oxidise the wine to let the complex flavours breathe. The greater the surface area that’s exposed to air, the more undesirable compounds (such as ethanol and sulphites) evaporate, letting the good scents and flavours shine. Wondering why some wine glasses are narrow? For white wines, the aim is to preserve their naturally crisp flavour, so preventing oxidation is ideal. Champagne flutes, the narrowest wine glasses, are slender in order to maintain the bubbles.
The size and shape of the rim directs the wine to the ideal area of the palate. Narrow apertures allow wine to flow to a specific part of the tongue to highlight or reduce specific notes. For instance, a small opening can enhance sweet flavours while balancing out acidity. Furthermore, narrow rims also help keep aromas inside the glass and direct your nose in to keep your sense of smell engaged. For wines with more complexity and less acidity or fewer tannins, a broad opening is often used to spread the libation across your palate. Regardless of shape, the thinnest rims allow for the best tasting experience since the wine transitions seamlessly from the glass to your palate.
Wine glass shapes
Different wine glass shapes are designed to enhance specific wine varietals – so, when stocking your glassware collection, keep in mind the wines you enjoy the most. If you prefer the rich flavour of reds, for example, consider investing in a few different types of red wine glasses to maximise your tasting experience. Use the wine glass guide below to learn the distinct wine glass names and which glasses go with which varietals.
Often used as a universal red wine glass, cabernet glasses have a large bowl and tall stem. A larger bowl gives the wine more surface area, allowing it to oxidise, or ‘breathe’. Oxidising softens the tannins found in reds, improving the overall flavour, and releases the wine’s natural aromas. This is essential, since the aromas are a large part of what you taste when drinking wine. The shape directs the wine to the centre of the palate, which helps mitigate the effects of tannins — compounds that produce a mouth-drying feel.
The wine glass shape for Burgundy wines includes a prominent fishbowl, which traps the aromas of the full-bodied wine. It also balances the wine’s intensity. Since the wine comes from thin-skinned grapes, it does not need to be swirled quite as much to enjoy the aromas. The narrow rim mitigates acidity by targeting the wine to the centre of the palate.
In contrast with Burgundy glasses, Bordeaux glasses are taller, allowing you to maximise the surface area of wine exposed to air as you swirl the liquid up the edge of the glass. Produced from thicker-skinned grapes, Bordeaux wine is best when it’s swirled and allowed to breathe. The shape also helps reduce the effects of tannins by concentrating the wine to the back of the tongue.
To let the fruit and spice flavors in the wine shine, the zinfandel glass directs the wine to your palate through a smaller opening. Its smaller bowl tempers the taste and smell of ethanol present in zinfandel varieties with a medium- to high-alcohol content. Because some zinfandels have more tannins, the narrow opening helps to balance out any potential mouth-drying effects.
Pinot noir glasses
The large bowl of the pinot noir glass releases the wine’s subtle and delicate aromas by allowing a large surface area of wine to be exposed to oxygen, and the distinctive shape traps the aromas in the glass. The glass targets the wine to the front of the mouth, which accentuates the sweet flavours while regulating acidic ones.
The large bowl of a chardonnay glass balances out its classic oaky notes. Furthermore, the greater surface area exposed to air lets the wine open up to reveal other tastes. The wide aperture evenly spreads the wine across the palate, which brings the complex layers of flavour into focus.
White wine glasses
Sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, Riesling and other white wines are best consumed in a glass with a narrow bowl. While their red counterparts are enhanced by oxidation, too much air can compromise the light, bright flavours characteristic of a white wine. The narrow bowl, combined with a narrow opening, also helps to keep white wine chilled. The wine is focused on the centre of the tongue to highlight light flavours while reducing any acidic notes.
Bubbles are essential to a good glass of sparkling wine. To maintain the fizzy effect, bubbly wines such as Champagne, prosecco and cava are best consumed in a glass with a narrow bowl and smaller mouth, such as a Champagne flute. The shape preserves the bubbles by limiting oxidation, while also keeping the sparkling wine cool.
The wide hip of the rosé glass expedites the alcohol’s rate of evaporation, which helps the fruity and floral notes of the wine come out. Furthermore, this wine glass shape helps produce a proper swirl that releases the aromas, while the narrow opening keeps them contained within the glass.
Port glasses, also known as dessert wine glasses, are recognisable for their tiny size. Because port has a much higher alcohol content — usually 20% ABV — a smaller pour is served. Additionally, the diminutive stature of the glass allows the body heat from your hand to release aromatics that are preserved in the round bowl for nuanced savouring.
When choosing your wine glass styles, consider how often, and in what setting, you’ll use the glasses as well as how much effort you want to put into their care.
Crystal wine glasses
Crystal is a stronger material than glass, so crystal wine glasses are thinner yet durable. The thinness of a crystal glass’s rim allows for a seamless transition onto the tongue. Not only does crystal heighten the feel of the tasting experience, it elevates the appearance as well by refracting light for a sparkling effect. Because crystal is a porous material, it’s best to hand wash. Some lead-free crystal glasses are dishwasher-safe, so check the care instructions for your chosen glass before washing. Crystal wine glasses are the most high-end option, making them a nice wedding gift.
Handmade wine glasses
Handmade glass, or mouthblown glass, is crafted with thousand-year-old techniques. These glasses are more expensive than machine-made ones due to the high level of artistry — it can take up to four craftsmen to make one glass, and each is one-of-a-kind. If you’re looking for wine glasses that are more formal and provide a unique wine-drinking experience, look for handmade glasses. Check care instructions to determine whether to wash your glasses by hand or in the dishwasher.
Machine-made wine glasses
If you’re looking for something more casual and less expensive to replace, buy machine-made glass. The technology used to craft machine-made glasses has come a long way, and today it can be hard to differentiate between machine-made and handblown glass. High-quality machine-made glass can now be produced in large volumes, resulting in glassware that is less expensive. Most of these glasses are dishwasher-friendly, though you should place them in the top rack only and try to keep anything else from clinking against them.
Durable and affordable, acrylic wine glasses make it easy to accommodate large crowds when hosting casual events. The strong material makes for worry-free alfresco entertaining since the glasses can withstand drops or clinks. Even better? Most acrylic wine glasses are dishwasher-safe, so cleaning up after the backyard gathering ends is simple. Stemless acrylic wine glasses are stylish choices as water glasses, too.
Ultimately, it’s fine to choose the wine glass shape that works for you; any glass you buy has to suit your personal style. If you prefer a classic look, there are a wide range of wine glasses with traditional rounded shapes and long stems on the market. If you veer more modern, you’ll find many stemless options and cylindrical shaped bowls. Whatever your preference, if the glass feels good in your hand, fits your kitchen storage parameters and requires the right amount of maintenance for your lifestyle — and you enjoy drinking wine out of it — it’s the right fit.