Stemware is a general term for drinking glasses that have a bowl, stem and foot. Wine glasses are the most common type of stemware; wine and champagne should always be served in a stemmed glass. Stemware is also used to serve drinks such as brandy, certain cocktails, after-dinner dessert drinks, water and juice. Each type of stemware has a shape and size ideally suited to the particular beverage it's meant to hold. With a little knowledge of the types of stemware, you'll be able to match the beverages you serve with the perfect glass.
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Look for books and websites that discuss different types of stemware. These sources tend to deal mainly with wine, glassware or even etiquette. In sources dealing with etiquette, check the sections on setting the dinner table or, in older etiquette guides, the section on the bride's trousseau.
Use the appropriate stemware for the wine you are serving. Temperature is key in determining which wine glass to use. White wine glasses have narrower bowls and mouths (rims) than red wine glasses. The narrow mouth keeps the wine cooler, since it protects it from the air. Red wine glasses have wider mouths, which allow the aroma to rise into the air and let the air warm the wine.
Serve champagne in flute-shaped stemware. Champagne flutes are slightly narrower than white wine glasses. The flute shape not only keeps the beverage cool, but preserves the bubbles in the champagne by giving them less room to escape into the air.
Serve after-dinner brandy in a type of stemware known as a snifter. Snifters are larger than wine glasses, with short stems and wide bowls. The wide bowl lets the drinker swirl the brandy, which is always served in a small amount. Swirling releases its aroma. The short stem of the snifter allows body heat from the hand to warm the brandy.
Serve cordials, liqueurs and dessert wines, such as port and sherry, in tiny stemmed glasses. Since these are all heavy and sweet drinks, they are not served in large amounts. The small glass also helps the drinker taste the cordial at the back of the mouth.
Serve other drinks in stemware, too. For example, some cocktails, such as martinis and whiskey sours, are often served in glasses with a short stem and triangular bowl. Stemmed goblets can be used for water, iced tea or juice. Coffee glasses have short stems as well, and can be used to serve dessert drinks containing liquor, such as Irish coffee.