Does your wine glass matter?

by Clark Trim


The answer is a resounding yes. Wine glasses do matter—so much so that designing a glass for every wine varietal has become as much science as art. Glassmakers have designed a glass specifically for almost every wine varietal, and they would love to sell you a set of each. Prices go well over $100 per stem.

The science is straightforward and logical.  Every wine varietal has its own characteristics.  Let’s concentrate on the characters of aroma and flavor.  Separate senses with their own receptor organs, smell (aroma) and taste (flavor), are intimately entwined.  The close relationship between the two is most apparent in how we perceive flavor, making the anatomy of a wine glass so important. 


The Anatomy Of A Wine Glass

General Information

The best wine glasses are crystal clear.  This allows the beauty and subtleties of the wine to show through.  The thinner the glass, the better; it should be thinnest and smoothest at the rim.  Colored glasses and those cut with decorative accents add beauty to the glass, but do nothing to show the wines. Thin, clear glasses are the way to go.

The Foot

It has the practical job of allowing your glass to sturdily stand upright.

The Stem

You should always hold your glass by the stem.  Holding by the bowl transfers heat (not good) and it smudges the glass, distracting from visual enjoyment of the wine.  Stemless glasses have become popular in recent years.  I don’t recommend them for the reasons mentioned above.  

The Bowl

This main part serves many purposes.  The bowl is where you will find the most variation in wine glasses. All wine glass bowls will be tapered upward with a slightly narrower opening at the top than at the bottom. This shape helps to capture and direct the wine's aroma toward your mouth and nose. The bowls of wine glasses are also designed to allow an amount of surface area appropriate to the wine. Red wine glasses have a larger surface area to allow the wine to breathe, while white wine glasses have a smaller surface area. Champagne glasses have a very small surface area for the wine so that it retains and encourages those tiny bubbles.

The Rim

This is the vital part in achieving the full experience from your wines. The thinner the rim, the less the glass detracts from the wine as you sip; a good wine glass will have a "cut" rim that is smooth to the touch and does not inhibit the wine as it flows out of the glass. Less expensive glassware may have rims that are rolled or bumpy. While these glasses are functional, they tend to distract from the wine itself.



While I think it is important to understand the concept of wine glass science in design, I don’t recommend going out and trying to purchase a set of varietal specific glasses for every wine you enjoy.  If you are an avid wine drinker, as am I, I recommend no more than three styles.  Here is what I use, and why.

Red wine

For all my reds, I like to use a Burgundy glass.  I like the larger air-to-wine surface, which allows the wine to aerate and “open up”.  I also like to really get my nose in the glass to enjoy the aromas of the wine.  This glass serves all my needs for the myriad of red varietals that I enjoy.

White wine

I use a Bordeaux glass for all my whites.  I like the narrower bowl size; not as much air surface to wine is needed for white wines, as most should be enjoyed young and fresh.  The taller sides are not only elegant, like a good white wine, but the rim is nicely sloped inward to collect delicate aromas so important to the wine’s flavor.

Sparkling wine

One of my favorite styles of wine, it should be enjoyed in a nice flute.  Flutes have a special design that shows off the beautiful mousse and bubbles that are the result of a second in-bottle fermentation.

You may want to approach selecting two to three glasses by another method.  For example, if Viognier is your favorite white, purchase Viognier glasses and use them for all other white wines that you may pour.  If your red of choice is Pinot Noir, purchase Pinot Noir glasses and use them for all the reds you serve.  In this way, you could get by with only two wine glasses, especially if you don’t care for sparkling wine.

What about the cost? 

That’s a good question.  We have covered the function and anatomy of a good wine glass.  Keep what you have learned in mind when shopping for wine glasses.  You will be surprised how many good quality glasses are available in your price range.  My final thought is this.  What you pay per stem should be around the same amount you spend on a bottle of your go-to wine.  If your favorite wine is $12 a bottle, I don’t recommend spending $25 per stem on your glassware.  But if you enjoy $25 bottles of wine, you are not likely to be satisfied with a $12 per stem glass.


Red or white, Rosé or sparkling, sweet or dry—the wine you love deserves a good quality glass.  If all your questions were not answered here, please comment below and I will get back with you.  Or, please stop by Colonial Wines & Spirits and we will be more than happy to talk wine glasses with you.

Clark TrimComment