I’m at best what can be described as a casual wine drinker. Don’t get me wrong I love wine, red or white I enjoy them equally. My knowledge of the subject is however rather limited. As such one of the questions that I keep on asking myself is does the shape and material of the glass have an effect on the aroma and taste of the wine? Join me as I try to discover the truth about wine glasses.
To start with, let’s look at the material. Some wine experts say that wine must be served in the best wine crystal you can get to get its full blessing. According to them, it is true that the aroma, appearance, and even the taste of the wine is enhanced through using the proper crystal wine glasses. The other main material that is commonly used is glass and unless you’re paying close attention, it’s extremely difficult to tell the difference between the two materials. Here's how: Hold the crystal glass up to the light, it will capture the light in a prism and creates small rainbows - while glass doesn’t. If after holding the glasses to the light you are still not satisfied, use a pocket UV light to see what colour the glasses give off. A blue to purple hue indicates crystal, while a green hue is given off by glass. Also, crystal is generally much heavier than the same piece made in glass.
As it turns out there seems to be a consensus that for most people, there isn’t a huge difference in the taste between wines served in crystal versus wines served in glass. When it comes to the material used, it is one of personal preference, crystal being more costly and prestigious while glass tends to be more convenient and durable.
Now we get to the shape of the glasses. It helps to know and understand the anatomy of a wine glass from top to bottom and what effect this can have on your experience.
The Rim: The top of the wine glass where the wine meets your mouth. The best wine glasses have a thin, smooth rim that doesn’t get in the way of the wine flowing to your lips. Lower quality wine glasses may have thicker rims with more of a texture that can distract you from the wine experience. Typically, crystal can be manufactured into a thinner rimmed glass, but this isn’t always the case.
The Bowl: This is where the wine glass takes its open shape, usually narrower at the top and roundly opening up to the bottom to allow for proper swirling. Depending on the type of wine, the size and shape of the bowl may vary to allow for more aroma to come across or for the wine to breathe properly.
The Stem: The glasses stem is generally long and thin, it makes it possible to properly hold the glass without your body heat affecting the wine’s temperature. The second reason for holding the glass by the stem is that it will keep the drinker's hands away from the rim of the glass. Our hands have their own scent. Soaps, lotions and perfumes also increase the intensity of these scents. These scents can overpower, mask or change the aromas from the wine so the design of the stem allows these scents to stay as far away from the drinker's nose as possible. Some professionals even go as far as to hold the base rather than the stem for this very reason.
The Base: Finally, the bottom and least glamorous part of the glass keeps it from falling over.
In the 1950s, glass manufacturers advanced the design of wine crystal glasses with unique shapes and sizes for nearly all wine variants and in 1974 a well-known glassware company claimed that a specific shape of the glass would aid a wine drinker in picking up every aroma of the wine and that the different shapes would also direct the wine to the correct part of your mouth that would allow you to taste that wine best.
In 2004, an article appeared in the Gourmet Magazine that reported studies at major research centres in Europe and the U.S. suggested that these claims were, scientifically inaccurate. According to Linda Bartoshuk of Yale University, “Your brain doesn’t care where taste is coming from in your mouth.”
But it doesn’t seem to be as simple as that and a lot of time and research by large glass manufactures have gone into the shape of especially the bowl of the glass. It’s got to a point that there are not only glasses available for the specific style of the wine but also there are now glasses available for specific wine regions. Ask wine professionals and they will largely tell you the shape of the glass has the ability to concentrate the wine’s aroma, intensifying the characteristics of the wine. But the argument can be made that the casual wine drinker will not readily pick up the subtle differences and nuances between the different shapes when drinking the same wine. And let’s face it, it is also used as a clever marketing tool to get you to buy more sets of glasses than you actually need.
Sommelier Dini, a wine teacher for over 20 years, shares her opinion regarding various wine glasses:
What seems to be a constant theme throughout my research is that, unless you are a wine professional or are a wine connoisseur, that for everyday use you really only need two sets of wine glasses in your home. A set of all-purpose glasses that are great for both red and white and a set of sparkling wine flutes will be more than adequate. Your wine experience won't be destroyed at all. You may not catch the most nuanced of aromas, but a single, well-made wine glass is a worthy investment by any casual wine lover. When deciding on which glass to go with, take your time, shop around for the material and shape of your choice. It is after-all a very personal item and if chosen correctly can bring you a great deal of pleasure for many years to come. Avoid coloured glasses and serve wine in a clear glass that shows off the colour and clarity to best advantage.
The ones that seem to work best are ones that have stems. Although stemless wine glasses look amazing and is a bit unusual, it is wine glasses with stems that are both great for tasting and serving wine more formally. The stems also ensure that your hand doesn’t have to touch the bowl of the glass, which would alter the temperature of the wine. It also makes it much easier to swirl the wine when you initially taste it and let’s face it, it is far more fun to clink the glass for cheers!
South African Wine Lover