This time of year, many are breaking out their red wine glasses while others still don’t see what all the glassware hoopla is about. Glassware for wine comes in dozens of shapes and sizes, and different styles of wine are served in glasses that best express the wine’s character. So what’s the secret to pickbling the best glass for the wine you drink?
The big secret: There isn’t a wrong way to drink wine. Whether you’re drinking from a vintage coupe, an insulated tumbler or a solo cup with ice cubes, good wine is going to present its amazing character for an enjoyable experience no matter what.
The important thing to remember about the art of glassware is that these glasses represent a history of sharing wine and wanting to enhance the drinking experience. The ideas around their varied shapes are not rules for drinking but are more so strategies for helping elevate a wine’s personality.
First, the main difference between a stemmed glass and a tumbler is temperature. Wine in the glass is going to be affected by the heat of your hand, so holding onto a stem helps keep that heat to a minimum.
Second, I’ve found that it helps to think about what I want to do with the wine when I’m holding it. Do I want to swirl it around and deeply breathe in the flavors, or do I want to hold it steadily up to my nose to inhale the aroma? Bigger, bowl-shaped glasses are great for swirling while skinnier and more delicate glasses bring the wine to your nose.
There are two main white wine glasses: standard (sometimes called Sauvignon) glasses and Chardonnay glasses. Light-bodied whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Albariño are often served in standard white wine glasses.
But Chardonnay isn’t the only white to drink from its namesake glass. These rounder bowls are perfect for styles like Prisoner Wine Company’s 2021 Blanc de Noir Blindfold. This is a white-pressed Pinot Noir blend that’s got big, peachy Viognier vibes, so I would drink this from a Chardonnay glass to pick up on all of those aromas.
For red wines, you’ve got a lot of options. There’s the standard red wine glass you probably recognize. These are ideal for Zinfandel and Syrah drinkers because they temper the wine in the glass and hold in the aromas. If you’ve got a wine like Tank Winery’s Softcore, a blend of many varietals with a memorable zing from carbonic maceration—you’ll want a glass that helps you take in all the different flavors.
Slightly bigger are the Bordeaux and Burgundy glasses. The large Bordeaux glass is meant to let more ethanol evaporate so it doesn’t overwhelm your nose. This makes it good for Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, though California Cabs are often served in an even bigger glass in the U.S. The wide-bowled Burgundy glass helps collect more aromas, so it’s best for Gamay and Pinot Noir.
But remember that different red varieties aren’t limited to one type of glass every time. A light and aromatic Zinfandel might be best served in a standard glass, but a bolder and richer style like Josh’s bourbon barrel-aged Zinfandel might benefit from oxidation in a Bordeaux glass or the aroma-catching bowl of a Burgundy glass.
By now, you’re a glassware expert, so you can probably guess why sparkling wine glasses have their unique shapes. First, there’s the vintage coupe. These delicate glasses bring all the bubbles close up to your face to enhance the sparkling wine experience, but they don’t do a great job of holding in the carbonation nor the aroma, so the more modern flute glass is usually my choice for sparkling wines.
There’s also a slightly larger tulip glass, seen more rarely but perfect for wines like Sonoma Cutrer’s Grand Brut Rosé, my favorite sparkling wine I’ve tried so far this year. This wine has so much flavor, depth and toastiness that experiencing it in a slightly larger glass enhances the aromas. This is also why some serve sparkling wine in an all-purpose or standard white glass for more swirling space.
Now for the ultimate question: What kind of glassware do you need in your home? I stand by what I said before: You don’t need any specific glass to enjoy good wine. Whether your wallet says no to expensive glassware or you don’t have the space for a large collection, there are plenty of good reasons to opt out of accumulating wine-specific glasses.
But lack of knowledge shouldn’t be one of those reasons. Wine glassware isn’t too complicated once you understand the theory behind them, and fancy glasses for family favorites aren’t only reserved for the wine-drinking elite. If you’ve got a go-to wine you’re always drinking at home, then it’d be fun to have a cool glassware set to help you enjoy the flavors and aromas even more.
Do you need every kind of wine glass even if you’re not drinking every kind of wine? Probably not. But can the perfect wine in the perfect glass be the perfect thing to come home to after a hard day at work? Absolutely.