Are wines really so fundamentally different that you need red and white wine glasses? Why are there so many different shapes and sizes of wine glasses out there – especially as folks try to purchase the best wines for the holidays?
Isn’t one glass just as good as another as long as it can hold my precious (and some days, desperately needed) wine? Heck, a plastic cup should work just as well as a wine glass, shouldn’t it?
Well, yes and no. Certainly from a purely functional perspective — holding and drinking liquid — any plastic, paper, glass or another vessel will work. However, wine is made to be experienced through multiple senses: sight, smell, taste, and even touch. The right red or white wine glass will enhance these senses and help you appreciate the wine in your glass the way it was truly meant to be experienced.
There are some general requirements that all glasses should meet, regardless of the type of wine you pour into them. Then there are specific requirements for glasses based on whether you are drinking red or white wine, and what varietals of red and white wine you are enjoying. Let’s break it down and take a look at the similarities and differences between red and white wine glasses.
General Wine Glass Requirements
All quality wine glasses should have the following characteristics:
- Glasses must be colorless and transparent with no decorations, cut facets, or anything else that will obscure the wine in the glass. One important component of wine appreciation is being able to do a visual assessment of the wine’s color, clarity, and intensity.
- Glasses should be quite thin. Thicker glasses not only feel less appealing against the lips, but they impart more glass taste in your mouth. This could impact your ability to notice delicate flavors in the wine. Concerned about higher breakage rates for thin glasses? Some glass manufacturers now produce glasses that are light and thin, yet very tough.
- The base of the glass should be sufficiently large to offer good stability.
- Glasses should have a slight inward curve at the top to collect aromas and focus them toward your nose.
- The bowl should be large enough to allow you to give the wine a good swirl without spilling a drop.
- As for the material–glass vs. crystal–it’s a matter of personal choice. Glass is less expensive and dishwasher safe, plus it’s non-porous so it doesn’t absorb aromas. It is also less durable and breaks more easily. Lead-free crystal is more durable than glass (even when made thin) and is also dishwasher safe, but is more expensive. Pure crystal glasses are the most durable and have a superior light reflection, enhancing visibility to the wine, but can be quite expensive and must be hand washed.
What’s the Difference Between Red and Wine Glasses?
The difference between red and white wine glasses is the shape. Even within the red and white wine categories, there are differently shaped glasses for the varietal of wine. The shape of the wine glass is primarily intended to concentrate and direct aromas. However, different varieties of wines have different levels of aromatics and different oxygen needs to release those wonderful aromas, requiring different glass shapes.
Red Wine Glasses
Glasses meant for red wine are larger than those for white wine. There are two primary types of red wine glasses–Bordeaux and Burgundy–although other types are available as well.
A Bordeaux glass is intended for big, bold, tannic wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Bordeaux blends. Since these red wine varieties generally have higher alcohol content, the taller bowl shape allows any harsh ethanol aromas to evaporate quickly before reaching the nose, leaving only the pleasurable varietal aromas.
The broader width of the bowl allows a greater surface area of the wine to be in contact with air. Red wines need oxygen contact to help smooth out harsher tannins and allow aromas greater space to gather. The narrower tip concentrates the aromas upward into the nose and slows down the flow of wine into the mouth to soften the impact of the spices, so they don’t overwhelm your palate all at once.
A Burgundy glass is meant for lighter, more aromatic red wines like Pinot Noir (Burgundy), Gamay (Beaujolais) and Nebbiolo. The much larger bowl allows for even greater oxygenation than with Bordeaux glasses. This is needed to release the much more delicate aromas in these lighter wines, and allow them greater space to concentrate and develop in complexity.
White Wine Glasses
White wine glasses have smaller bowls than red wine glasses. The purpose of the smaller, narrower shape is to preserve delicate floral aromas that might get lost in a larger glass. Those bright, fruitier flavors and aromas become muted with too much oxygen contact. The smaller glass also keeps the temperature of the wine cooler due to less surface area in contact with warmer air. The mouth of the glass is wider in relation to its narrower body, which allows more wine to flow over the tongue, accentuating that vibrant, mouth-watering acidity found in many white wines.
The stem for white wine glasses should be long, allowing you to hold the glass comfortably by the lower part of the stem or the base and not by the bowl. By holding the bowl, your hands can warm up the wine to a temperature that causes harsher, more tannic flavors to become evident, masking the pleasant fruit flavors. Having your hand higher on the glass also puts your hand closer to your nose, which can impact your perception of the wine’s delicate aromas.
Wine Glass Recommendations
The size, shape, thickness, and material of a wine glass all contribute to maximizing the enjoyability of a wine. If you tend to drink a variety of red and white wines, you should consider purchasing different glassware to experience the unique nuances of each grape varietal.
However, if you have limited storage space, or feel that the wine tastes just as good in one glass as another, a universal wine glass can work just great for you. The most important thing is to purchase a glass that is comfortable to the touch, doesn’t detract from the wine, and fits in with your drinking (and dishwashing) lifestyle. So, which type of wine glasses do you prefer to use? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.