Why the shape of your wine glass matters
There’s a reason you have a favourite
Have you ever consistently chosen the same coffee cup from the office kitchen? It’s probably not because you like the pattern but rather because the shape, size and material of the cup affect the flavour of its contents. While that scenario may be a product of fluke and circumstance, it’s nice to know that the theory can be recreated for your prized wine collection.
Every revelation has a beginning
Legend has it that once upon a time a gentleman dining at a restaurant bore witness to the sommelier pouring wine into his water glass by mistake. A ruckus ensued but before the offending glass could be removed, the gentleman asked to taste his wine in that glass. Noticing that certain flavours were emphasised and others down played, he began to wonder whether there was something more scientific about the shape of the glass. That gentleman was Herr Riedel of Riedel glassworks. After much experimentation he found that the bowl shape and glass size affected the way the aroma or ‘nose’ of the wine was captured and directed, deducing that each varietal benefited from a different glass shape and so the varietal-specific wine glass was born.
Wine glasses were primarily designed for aesthetic purposes, until Mr Riedel started looking into things. These days you can buy wide bowled glasses for chardonnay and smaller bowled glasses for pinot noir. Light reds and heavy reds benefit from different bowl shapes, as do wooded and unwooded white wines. Here’s the rule of thumb:
- For lighter wines, go for a smaller bowl and a narrower, more tapered mouth.
- For heavier, more full-bodied wines, aim for a wider bowl, with more room to aerate the wine. Remember how wine likes to breathe?
The mouth shape of the glass is not merely where the bowl shape ends. This element has also been cleverly crafted. The tapering or broadness of the mouth directs the liquid to the part of your tongue that is best equipped to appreciate it.
- Wide-mouthed chardonnay glasses guide the wine to the outer sides of the tongue where your salt detecting tastebuds can subdue and appreciate the wooded elements.
- A narrowed sauvignon blanc glass, on the other hand, guides the liquid to the centre of your tongue, where the acidity predisposed buds can enhance the grassy, gooseberry undertones.
- More delicate, lighter wines benefit from a narrower mouth to concentrate the air in the glass and give a better idea of the character of the wine.
- More robust, full-bodied varietals benefit from a wider mouth and a larger glass, which allows the air to circulate more.
Mr Riedel found that, in general, wine glasses were too small to give wine enough air to breathe. He designed the bowls of his new glasses to be wider and more importantly, higher than was the norm at the time. The height allows for glasses like the shiraz, for example, to still have a wide bowl and a narrow mouth which allows the wine to aerate but also emphasise characteristic flavour notes.
If you look at the edge of a wine glass, or any glass for that matter, the edge is usually either slightly rolled or cut straight across. Ideally, the lip of a good wine glass should be cut straight, to allow the liquid inside to fall on the right place on the tongue that is most receptive to this varietal’s pleasant characteristics. The rolled edge prevents the liquid from pouring out easily, which directs it to the wrong parts of the tongue and mouth, reducing overall enjoyment of the wine.
For the most part, try to choose clear wine glasses. Coloured glass affects how you view the wine, and in wine, the colour is an indication of quality, so you want to see whether the characteristic colours of the wine are present before you drink it. Good quality glass usually has some level of lead or other additive to it, to increase the hardness, clarity and quality of the glass. You know the ping that good glasses give? That’s the presence of lead (or, in lead-free glasses, another additive).
There’s a lot more to a good wine glass than first meets the eye. Hopefully with a little knowledge of the shape, size and clarity of your wine glass, a more extraordinary wine tasting journey is yours for the taking.