Whether you consider yourself a seasoned pro when it comes to fine wine and wine drinking, or are a bit more of a newcomer who struggles to tell the difference between a Cabernet and a Carmenere, there’s little doubt about the fact that - from time to time - there’s plenty to be confused about when it comes to our favourite drink.
Most of these confusions, however, don’t come from grape types, wine styles, or tasting profiles. They also don’t tend to come from countries, regions, or the endless array of appellations, DOCs, and other things you might find on a wine label (although admittedly some of that jargon can leave our minds reeling). In fact, most often, the confusion and intimidation many wine drinkers and enthusiasts feel comes from all of the formalities and traditions which surround wine culture, making it feel like a minefield of etiquette, or an assault course of accompaniments, mannerisms, and unwritten rules.
Near the top of this list of confusing wine-related items, we find the somewhat bizarre world of wine glasses. Now, very few other foods or drinks come with such a dizzying array of tools or objects associated with them. Sure, there are a handful of different cheese knives out there, and some other items of cutlery designed for a specific purpose… but even the most complex of table arrangements doesn’t come close to the kind of bewilderment we feel when shopping for wine glasses.
In this blog, we’re going to be looking at the world of wine glasses for beginners, and taking a look through the weird and wonderful range of shapes, sizes, and supposedly specialised items you’d find in a glassware shop. Are the various wine glass styles out there really going to make a radical difference to your drinking pleasure? What are the basics? What are the essentials? Do we really need more than one drinking vessel for this particular drink? We’ll be answering all of these questions… and more besides!
A Confusing Range?
If you were to seek out a book entitled ‘wine glasses for beginners’, you’d probably be faced with a lengthy text, which goes on and on and on about the right wine glass shape for each individual wine style. Think we’re exaggerating? Think again. There really are specially shaped and sized wine glasses out there for almost every imaginable type of wine. Riesling glasses have their own designated form, as do Chardonnay and Pinot Gris glasses. Burgundy is supposed to be served in a different glass to Bordeaux, and Rioja and Chianti are apparently each worthy of their own glass style, too. Where on earth do these designs and so-called rules come from?
If you suppose that tradition plays some part in all this, it would be perfectly understandable. After all, the world of wine is rife with outdated traditions, which dictate plenty about how we choose our wines, how we drink them… even how we open and serve the bottles. However, you would be wrong - there’s no specific tradition out there governing which glass style should be used for each wine. After all, mass-produced wine glasses are relatively modern inventions in the grand scheme of things, and as such, any ‘traditions’ which might have been formed would only have arisen in the last hundred years.
The actual fact of the matter is that the fine glass company, Riedel, launched their range of ‘sommelier’ glasses (which included specifically shaped glasses for all the major wine styles) in the 1960s, in an attempt to increase sales and encourage people to buy more than one item when shopping for glasses. So much for tradition! Riedel claimed at the time that their range had been scientifically designed by wine experts to enhance flavour, aroma, and mouthfeel… although nobody has ever been able to back this up with evidence of any kind.
The questions then remain; what type of wine glasses do you actually need in order to make the most of your wine? Are there any absolute essentials? And what are the differences between them?
Wine Glasses for Beginners: The Essentials
Most wine experts who actually have their feet on the ground and their heads screwed on properly would claim the following: in actual fact, the grand total of wine glass styles you really need is one, possibly two at a push.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you can serve your wine in any old container or vessel, and expect it to do justice to the wine within. A good wine glass really needs two key components: a wide ‘bowl’ which allows for swirling (and yes, swirling is important, as it allows the wine to aerate in the glass and gently oxidise, thus opening up the full flavour and aroma profile), and an opening rim which is smaller than the widest point of the bowl, which stops over-oxidation and allows for easier drinking. Simple.
Any glass which fits the above criteria will really suffice for most wines. However, it’s worth looking at the primary glass styles, their pros and cons and individual features, before settling on the best wine glass for you and your needs.
- Table Wine Glasses
Table wine glasses are what we’d call your standard, common-or-garden variety wine glasses. Sure, they come with plenty of variations on the same theme (as mentioned previously), but they all follow the same basic pattern. A standard wine glass will have a long stem, a wide bowl, and a rim which is narrower than the bowl below.
Standard wine glasses have been designed to make the general process of tasting and enjoying wine easier. The wide bowls are perfect for swirling and opening up your wine, the narrower rim makes taking in those aromas more effective, and the stem keeps your fingers away from the bowl, and stops the heat from your hand from affecting the temperature of the wine within. Are they effective? Yes there are. Are they a little dull and old-fashioned? Quite possibly.
- Champagne Glasses
The other ‘essential’ when it comes to wine glasses is the standard Champagne flute. These tend to be tall and thin, with an elegant, elongated ‘flute-shaped’ bowl, a narrow rim, and a long stem. Again, their design has been led by necessity, and there’s something pleasantly sophisticated and genteel about their shape and overall look.
The reason why Champagne flutes are shaped as they are is due to the fact that Champagne (or any sparkling wine for that matter) does not need to aerate, does not need to be swirled, and generally isn’t sniffed much, either. The main feature of these wines is their refined bubbles… and the narrow rim means a lower surface area, which results in those bubbles lasting much longer.
- Stemless Glasses
In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in stemless glasses. The reasons for this are rather open to interpretation, but we reckon it’s got something to do with the fact that modern wine drinkers are primarily interested in the flavour and character of their wines, and less interested in tradition, formality, or old-fashioned wine drinking values. The stemless glass symbolises cool, laid-back modernity - a stylish, sleek approach to wine drinking, which doesn’t give a damn about the rules and focusing solely on the wine itself. There’s no denying they look great, and have a gorgeous tactility to them… but do stemless glasses really do the job properly?
The answer is a fairly resounding ‘yes’. Take the Brumate range of stemless wine glasses, for example. These glasses are the perfect shape for swirling and opening up your wine if you wish to do so, just as they have ample rim space for sniffing and appreciating those aromas. Their stylish and colourful surfaces mean you don’t have to worry about getting fingerprints all over the bowl (one of the key reasons given for the importance of stems), and best of all, they feature a triple-insulation design, which is guaranteed to keep your wine at the perfect temperature!
Tradition vs Choice
As with many things when it comes to wine and wine drinking, your choice of wine glass really comes down to whether you like the traditional, ceremonial and old-fashioned aspect of wine, or whether you prefer to break away from the norms, and go with what feels right for you. Stemless wine glasses are certainly a breath of fresh air for a new generation of wine drinkers, who want to connect with this drink on their own terms and in a way which is approachable, enjoyable, and non-threatening.
It’s been exciting for us to see the world of wine opening up to a new generation, and watching it rocket into the 21st century by shedding a lot of its formal baggage. Wine glasses and wine glass shapes changing are a key symptom of the transformations which are happening… and so long as the wine keeps flowing, we’re happy to go along with whatever’s on the horizon. Cheers!