For everyone from the casual wine drinker to the sommelier, it’s important to understand the basics about wine in order to better appreciate it. Understanding the flavor profiles, grape varieties, wine labels, types of wine, and basics of winemaking will make you a smarter wine drinker. Wine lovers know that a lot of things can impact how wine meets the taste buds. Tannins, residual sugar, climates, type of fermentation and the fermentation process, acidity, and alcohol content (ABV) all impact the flavor. And so does the type of glass you drink out of.
The type of glass used to drink wine can greatly affect the taste. Why go through the trouble of learning the proper way to consume wine if you don't serve it in the right glass? Once you learn the basic parts of a wine glass, and what purpose they serve, you can select the right glass for the right wine and maximize your wine tasting experience.
The lip of the wine glass is simply the top rim. The lip helps to concentrate the aroma when sniffing. The degree to which the lip or rim is tapered from the bowl affects where the wine is directed to in the mouth. The lip of white wine glasses is narrow, like the bowl, to direct the wine better to the front of the mouth. The lip of red wine glasses is wider, as the aroma is less delicate, and directs the wine to the back and sides of the tongue. For off-dry and dry red wines with a lower amount of residual sugar, the sweetness level doesn’t need to be accentuated so the wine can be directed less specifically. But, for white wines with a slightly higher natural sugar level, from dry white wines to ice wines, the sugar content needs to be directed to enhance the wine sweetness.
So a good rule of thumb is if you’re drinking a chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, fruity sparkling wine, or a sweet wine like a riesling or moscato, be sure to choose a narrower wine glass. For pinot noir, merlot, malbec, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, or any other red wine varietals, choose a wider lip for your wine glass.
The bowl is the part of the glass that actually holds the wine. In general, all wine glasses should have a bowl that is wider at the bottom and narrower at the top, to concentrate the aroma. Also, the bowl should be clear, smooth and not have anything that interferes with swirling the wine. Red wine benefits from a shorter, wider bowl, while white wine is more traditionally served in a taller, more narrow bowl—think balloon versus tulip.
The stem supports the bowl above and attaches it to the foot or base below. It also keeps the warmth of your hands away from the bowl, where it could affect the temperature and flavor of the wine itself. The stem should be sturdy and tall enough to comfortably hold but not so tall as encourage breakage or tipping. It should also be firmly attached at the bowl and base.
The foot or base of the glass serves the basic purpose of keeping it upright by providing a flat surface. It should be firmly attached to the stem and strong enough to avoid snapping if held instead of the stem for swirling when tasting. The base should also be broad enough to support the glass, at least when filled to the halfway point. While the base is a critical part of the glass structure, it does not affect the taste of the wine.
Understanding wine glasses will help you appreciate your wine more. So whether you’re drinking a dry wine, a semi-sweet, or a dessert wine, you’ll understand which glass to drink out of and why.
K. D. Wicks is a communications professional with experience in writing, editing and design in academia, marketing, and print and digital media. She graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications, encompassing public relations, journalism, advertising and speech.