Ask Casey: What’s the Deal with Wineglasses?

Casey Barber

by Casey Barber on April 15, 2011

Ask Casey: Cooking and Kitchen Questions Answered

Does it really matter if you serve red wine in one kind of wineglass and white wine in another—do all the different shapes and sizes of stemware really make a difference?

Hey, don’t blame Riedel and other schmancy stemware manufacturers for overloading our brains and wallets with different glasses for Syrah, Chardonnay, Burgundy, and Cabernet. Blame stupid nature for making so many different varieties of wine grapes!

It’s kind of a ridiculous marketing ploy, but as any oenophile will tell you, wine is a living, breathing, constantly changing organism, and—no offense to the design minds at Schiller’s Liquor Bar, who serve their carafes of vino with the cutest little bistro glasses—things taste a little differently in a small stubby glass than in a bell-shaped, tapered goblet in which you can slosh and sniff to your heart’s content.

wine glass, stemware

“The shape absolutely has an impact,” says Mandy Oser, who runs the casually elegant Hell’s Kitchen food and wine bar Ardesia. “It’s not necessarily about cost or a particular brand, it’s more about the thickness of the glass, the weight of it.”

Aldo Sohm, Chef Sommelier at Le Bernardin, elaborates: “A well-made glass can act as a magnifying glass for flavor and aroma.” He focuses on the rim of the glass as a barometer of quality: a thin, precise and angled edge is what he’s looking for.

Though the idea that different regions of the tongue pick up different flavors—sweet, salty, sour, bitter—has been debunked, Sohm provides a compelling reason to drink out of delicately formed stemware instead of juice glasses. The narrow openings and wide bowls of red and white wine glasses allow the all-important nose or bouquet (wine aromas) to make its olfactory impact before you sip, while letting the wine “breathe” and develop flavors after being released from its bottle.

Champagne and sparkling wines, on the other hand, benefit from V-shaped bowls that promote the constant rise of carbonation from the narrow bottom to the slightly wider top, tickling your nose and tastebuds with that festive fizz.

Oser suggests doing a little taste test with a few wineglasses that you’re considering investing in—Ardesia uses the Spiegelau brand at its bar, which are also the Barber house wineglasses as well. Take a trip to your local wine bar and talk to your neighborhood sommelier. Or you can invest in a few of the Universal glasses that Sohm designed for Zalto, intended to be used for both red and white wines.

Beyond the scientific taste tests, the bottom line is this: investing in a good set of wineglasses—whether from Riedel, Zalto, Ikea, or Crate & Barrel—will help you get the most out of the wine you’re drinking. Don’t break the bank if you know you’re the kind of person who’s going to be breaking the stems on a regular basis, but it all leads to the enjoyment of a good glass or two, and isn’t that the point? To eat and drink things that taste the best they possibly can?

But beware the pleasures of taste-testing wines in various pieces of stemware: eventually, you might become the person who sends incorrect stemware back to the kitchen, or worse yet, brings your own with you. (Um, not that I know anyone in my personal life who does those two things. No, never.)

Whether you’re flummoxed by the finer points of serving fromage or just need a quick primer on preparing prime rib, Ask Casey is here to help. Got a question? Email me and I’ll answer it here.

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