A budding oenophile and friend of mine recently inquired as to what type of wine glass she should be buying. With the myriad shapes and even colours available, the options can be perplexing and, theoretically, the answer has less to do with stylishness, but rather the science behind this bulb on a stem, the archetypal wine glass we’ve all come to recognize. Size and form are paramount, in practice, but there is one fine element to a good glass that is rarely mentioned. A parallel involving bone china can help make sense of it, and lastly, I’ll sum it up with a chic one-size-fits-all solution.

“Wine…a good familiar creature”

When one develops an interest in wine and pursues tasting various styles, they may learn the swirl and the sniff. A partially-filled glass provides space for the wine’s flavour compounds to come into contact with oxygen while swirling. The tapered lip gathers these compounds to the centre where they may be received. No wine should be sipped before admiring all of its aromatic nuances. The complexity good wine offers can be attributed to certain grape varieties’ inherent character, winemaking technique, age, and arguably, the vineyard. 

The stem is there for skillful swirling as well as to prevent your hands from warming the wine. 

Tinted glass should be avoided as should embellishments or designs as the colour of a wine can relate so much about the what, where and how.

But another important criterion of a great glass and the one I’d like to focus on is its thickness and thus its weight. Thin, lightweight glasses permit the subtle, elegant characteristics of a wine to show forth. Many tend to be heavy and clunky and, unfortunately, too many of the kitchen paraphernalia stores lack decent options. Rims around the edge of the lip should be avoided as, ideally, the glass should be unnoticeable in the mouth, and when shopping for one, lift them up to feel their weight. They should feel as light as air. 

“…if it be well used,”

When the concept of thin glasses was first explained to me, I was immediately taken back to my grandmother who, being the daughter of a church minister and all too familiar with garden parties and “proper” serveware, would often say Tea doesn’t taste quite right if served in anything other than a bone china teacup. In fact, to her, it would be anathema to serve it in anything else. Teatime is a sacred institution(!). And she is quite right. After having experimented this myself, it is undeniable that the delicate flavours of tea, savoured in tiny sips, are emphasized when the receptacle goes unnoticed in the mouth or on the hand. Bone china, like other china such as porcelain, is made of clay, but bone china is special in that it consists of roughly fifty percent bone ash, resulting in a very light consistency that, when pottered, permits this raw material to be spun and shaped very thinly. The result is a very smooth, dainty yet resistant, almost see-through ceramic which is virtually weightless when clasped between two fingers. In turn, the user is absorbed solely by the tea’s subtle flavours and texture.

Now consider the relatively thick, crystal whisky tumblers: any air of refinement a wine may possess (an elusive finesse which all great winemakers strive to capture) would quickly dissipate if served therein. Moreover, imagine holding a heavy Pinot Noir-filled glass beer stein up to your face; how that would totally deflate your wine experience!

Similarly, tasting in vain is serving white wine pulled directly from the refrigerator. No wonder-glass on earth will revive the muted aromas of Lake Laberge temperatures. Eight to ten degrees celsius is best. 

At one time – and yet today, for some- owning the gamut of glasses was considered necessary; one for Burgundy, one for Bordeaux, port, etc. We’ve seen the champagne coupe evolve into the flute (both of which provide little space for the aromas to volatilize). But now that the sphere of wine culture has almost reached the ends of the earth, the provenances and approaches to winemaking are many, thus endless, too, are the wine choices. Add in the fact of limited space; homes and families are not as large as they once were and perhaps a desire for convenience and simplicity has led to a paradigm shift within the wine world: the universal wine glass

Usually a little larger than a white wine glass or of the same size as one for red Bordeaux, the majority are thin and clean cut. It’s versatile; widely accepted for both reds and whites, rosés, sparkling wines, and in smaller doses, perfect for both sweet and fortified wines such as sherry or port. Of reasonable cost are the lightweight, but loftier still are the prices for the ultra lightweight, some of which run in the triple digits – per unit. Of such, crystal or a composition of crystal and titanium is used.

Of course, more than decent, much less expensive options are available. Practicality would also suggest that owning one svelte style of red wine glass would suffice, too.

“speak no more against it”

Why is this important? It’s all about the stemware’s functionality in terms of maximizing your appreciation of a wine instead of detracting from it. Of course this is just advice and ‘to each his own’, but it’s an interesting perspective to consider since wine glasses seem to be such a hot topic. It’s worthwhile especially if you are purchasing pricey bottles, if you’ve spent years cellaring sentimental ones, or if you’re going out of your way to get your hands on those niche rarities. The concept may seem trivial to some, but to those who exist outside the philistine camp and have made a virtue out of enjoying wine in moderation; reflecting on its “story” with maybe some good food, a “proper” wine glass can be beneficial. And remember, don’t dis the granny teacups. 𑿿

Written by Leah Beauchamp, sommelier and DipWSET (Diploma in Wine & Spirits Education Trust) candidate.