The thing about wine glasses is that I am a believer in the notion that the size, shape and material of a glass makes a difference in the wine-drinking experience…yet I love to buy, display and drink from wine glasses of all shapes and sizes just because they are lovely and fun to collect (from high-end to thrift shop), and not because they have anything to do with enhancing the quality of the wine.
There is something implicitly understood as snobbish about the kind of wine knowledge that leads one to care about the size and shape of the glass and how that affects things like the color, bouquet and taste of a wine. Socially, it seems to me that those who know something about wine are better off hanging out with other like-minded wine drinkers, or otherwise just zipping it. So I’m going to leave it at this:
- The larger the bowl of a wine glass, the better the wine can circulate and ‘open up.’ The opening up of a wine depends upon its exposure to air. Wine needs to breathe deeply, then it begins to share more of itself with us. Red wine glasses have larger bowls because these wines need more air to loosen up than white wines do (which is why it’s best to pour only 4 oz. or so at a time; more space for air circulation). There are various shapes of wine glasses meant to enhance flavors and bouquets (scents) based on type of wine (chardonnay, cabernet, etc.), but most casual wine-drinkers find this level of subtlety unnecessary.
- Wine stems are there in order to keep the warmth from your hand from warming up the wine. Temperature affects flavor and therefore it’s best to keep your hand away from the bowl. That said, stemless glasses have become very popular with good reason—they’re cool and casual, and nobody really cares about heating up the wine a degree or two with their hands. I’ve been drinking wine from little stemless glasses forever, because they’re cute and fun. When my sister and I threw big parties together in Chicago (photo above is courtesy of Peg, our Chicago display of glasses), we’d put out all shapes, sizes and designs of wine glasses together, enjoying the mix and not worrying at all about whether they matched (or whether any broke).
- Lead crystal glasses, like my mother’s set of Waterford glasses, are controversial because of the dangers of lead exposure. But glassmakers like Riedel say that there is more lead in the wine bottle itself than in their glasses. Lead crystal glasses are handmade and blown, and the lead adds strength and clarity to the glass.
If you are wine drinker, I’m sure I need not suggest having a wine glass handy this week as we try some excellent Lebanese wines—no doubt your habit, or at least the power of suggestion, will make you want to drink along even if you don’t have Lebanese wine at the ready.