Wine connoisseurs know something even more important than facts about vintages and varietals: It makes a big difference how your wine is served. From the correct temperature to the glass you drink from, how any wine is presented can change the entire experience. And it’s not just about aesthetics. Although a beautiful glass may enhance your visual experience, the size and shape of a wine glass can alter any wine’s aroma and taste, for better or worse. The size and shape of the glass affects not just how the wine responds to its environment (exposure to oxygen and temperature, for example), but how we drink it. The way you hold the glass, how you tilt your head (forward or back), where your nose is centered as you sip and where on your tongue and palate the wine first hits can all impact your experience of the wine. What do you need to know so your guests will experience your wine at its very best? Here are some guidelines.
In general, the best glasses to enhance the bigger and bolder flavors of most red wines should be taller and have a larger bowl than glasses meant for serving lighter or more delicate wines. Larger glasses allow a wine to breathe more and permit the wine’s flavors and aromas to develop more fully. For this reason, it’s also best to fill each glass only about one-third full when serving red wines, to encourage more aeration.
The ideal glass for most white wines will be U-shaped, with a smaller bowl than when serving red wines. This helps prevent the wine from warming up too quickly, as whites are best served chilled. The more upright shape of the glass also allows aromas to be released sufficiently—without losing any aroma—for these lighter wines. Even within the many varietals of reds or whites, however, there can be great differences. Specially designed stemware is often created to enhance a specific wine that may not be at its best in any other glass. For example, Terlato Vineyards searched for the perfect glass to bring out the best in the fourth-generation family company’s Friuli Colli Orientali Pinot Grigio 2018. This pinot grigio is known for exceptional balance, complex, layered aromas and flavors with notes of ripe peach, apricot and pear, and a crisp, mineral finish. Bill Terlato and his daughter, Elise, teamed up with Maximilian and Georg Riedel of the 300-year-old crystal company, Riedel, to develop a glass to optimize the flavors and aromas of their pinot grigio. In the eyes of Riedel, wine glasses are not just about aesthetics, but are tools to help bring out the best in any wine. For Terlato Vineyard’s pinot grigio, they created a glass with a distinctly elongated bowl to heighten the mineral and fruity flavors of the wine. The narrower opening of the glass also helps the wine land in the mouth mid-palate, where taste buds are more complex. This specially designed glass helps the wine taster “pick up on those little nuances,” observed Elise Terlato. “The mouth of the glass enhances the texture and layered complexities of the wine.”
When serving champagne, prosecco or other sparkling wines to your guests, flutes or a tulip shaped glass are recommended. These glass shapes allow the chilled wine to stay cooler longer, whereas a wider glass would offer too much surface area, letting the delightful bubbles fizzle out more quickly. A narrower glass helps to preserve the carbonation of your sparkling wine.