Choosing the Right Wine Glasses

Finding the right glasses entails six points of consideration: size, shape, design, weight, material and aesthetics.

The size of the glass is determined by what kind of wine you intend to drink from it. Generally speaking, red wine glasses are larger than white wine glasses, and those intended for high quality wines are larger than those used for everyday wines.

Personally, I use a 17 oz.(480 ml.) capacity glass for ordinary red wines, and a 12 2/3 oz. (360 ml.) one for whites. In the case of Bordeaux, and other tannic, full-bodied, high quality reds, I use a 23 oz. (650 ml.) glass that was designed with Bordeaux specifically in mind. I of course don’t fill my Bordeaux, or any other wine glass, to the brim. For one thing, considering that a standard wine bottle only contains 750 ml. of wine, there wouldn’t be much left for anyone else to drink if I did, and for another, both the large size of the glass and the fact that it’s widest at its midway point allow the wine to “breathe” by affording a wide surface area of wine to be in contact with the air in order to promote oxidation. Oxidation helps to soften the tannins of a powerful red that might otherwise be overly harsh, and lets you more fully experience the complexity and various flavors present in a noble red. White wine, on the other hand, has far fewer tannins, and generally speaking, does not benefit from oxidation. A smaller glass is also better for whites because they are served chilled. Obviously, it takes longer to drink a larger quantity of wine, and you want to drink up each glass of white wine before it has a chance to become overly warm. One white wine that is an exception to these rules is fine white Burgundy, such as Chablis or Montrachet. These very high quality whites do benefit from exposure to the air, and are best served at the temperature of standard red wines, from 55 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the quality level, I usually serve white Burgundy, and other high quality Chardonnays, in 14 4/5 oz. (420 ml.) glasses or my 17 oz. red wine glasses.

The largest glasses are usually reserved for fine Burgundy. I use 26 1/2 oz. (750 ml.) glasses, but I’ve seen Burgundy glasses as large as 31 3/4 oz. (900 ml). But a discussion of Burgundy glasses really brings us more into the realm of shape than size. Burgundy is a rather delicate and highly aromatic red. Like Bordeaux, Burgundy is usually drunk form glasses designed specifically for it. They are balloon shaped: very wide in the middle, but tapering up to a relatively narrow opening at the rim. The wide middle creates ample surface area for the aroma to waft up from, while the narrow top keeps the wonderful Burgundy bouquet in the glass, preventing it from dissipating so that you can fully enjoy it.

Another type of uniquely shaped wine glass is the champagne flute. They have narrow, tall bowls to prevent their bubbles from dissipating to quickly. Tulip shaped Champagne flutes are better than straight-sided or trumpet-shaped ones because, as is the case with most wine glasses, the narrower mouth serves to concentrate the bouquet inside the glass. Speaking of shape in general, I prefer diamond-shaped glasses. They look nice, and an advantage of the diamond design is that it’s easy to see where the widest point of the glass is, which is the point to which a wine glass should be filled.

As far as design goes, traditional, long-stemmed glasses are definitely preferable to stemless glasses. The stem serves several important functions. First, by lifting the glass up off the table, it lets you see the color of the wine. Secondly, it makes it easier to swirl the wine in the glass to aerate it and get an idea of the amount of body the wine has as it drips back down the sides of the glass. Thirdly, it is a convenient handle that prevents your hand warming up the wine, and your fingers smudging up the glass.

Weight and balance are also important because you want a glass that feels good in your hand. This is a subjective area, but I personally don’t like heavy wine glasses, so I prefer ones made from thin glass. A thin rim is also more pleasant to drink from. There is a disadvantage to thin glass though, that can cause inconvenience and added expense: it chips and breaks easily. A way around this problem is to buy glasses reinforced with titanium rather than lead. Titanium wine glasses are not only more durable than their leaded counterparts, they are also lighter and maintain their clarity better.

As for material, you definitely want to go with fine Austrian or German crystal. That’s really not as expensive as it sounds. You can get beautiful, elegant, machine-made crystal from big name producers at reasonable prices, especially if you shop around on the Internet. Of course, their top of the line hand blown glasses tend to be very pricey, but it’s not necessary pay a premium when you can get very nice glasses for much less, including the titanium ones.

Which brings us finally to aesthetics, the most subjective area of all. It’s an important one though because, after all, the whole purpose of nice wine glasses is to act as an elegant foil for whatever wine you happen to be pouring, so aesthetics is just as important a consideration as functionality. Basically, I’d say decide how much you want to spend on wine glasses and get the ones that you think are the nicest among those that fall within your budget. It’s possible to buy a different size and shape of glass for each famous type of wine, but that’s overkill, in my humble opinion. I can’t see any reason to buy a special glass for Syrah, for example. If you’re having a very high quality Syrah, like a Hermitage or Penfolds Grange, you should serve it in Bordeaux glasses. If it’s a more humble version of this popular varietal, you can just use regular red wine glasses. The same goes for other powerful, full-bodied reds. In the case of a very good Pinot Noir, you should use Burgundy glasses because Burgundy itself is made from Pinot Noir grapes. If it’s a more ordinary Pinot Noir, regular red wine glasses are a better choice because the high-capacity Burgundy glasses will just make the wine’s ordinariness more apparent.

In my opinion, a full set of wine glasses should include regular red wine glasses (which can also be used as water goblets), Bordeaux glasses, Burgundy glasses, white wine glasses, (for Chablis and other high quality white Burgundies, you can use red wine or Bordeaux glasses), and champagne glasses. You may want to add some specialty glasses to that list if you happen to be a Brandy drinker or make a habit of serving dessert wines, but otherwise, you should be prepared for any contingency with these five types of wine glasses.