Which glasses to use?

Which wine glasses to use?
One of those perennial First World problems. But it is a matter of much debate among wine geeks. I have long been convinced that the shape of the glass can affect the taste of a wine. Not every wine, but quite a lot of them. We showed how this can be last year when we did a tasting in the shop on a Friday evening of the same sauvignon blanc tasted from two different glasses. One was a narrow-rimmed tasting glass, the other a broader-rimmed ‘dinner’ glass.

The difference was very apparent, even amongst the most sceptical of customers. The reason had to do with physics. The narrow glass forced you to tilt your head back further than the broader glass. This resulted in the wine being thrown back further in your mouth, where there are more taste receptors for detecting acidity, which the sauvignon blanc had in abundance. Tasted from the other glass the wine stayed nearer the front of your mouth, where the fruit character of the wine was more apparent.

As you know, our sense of smell is very closely related to our sense of taste. The best example of this is how hard it is to taste something when you have a heavy cold. Different wines, of course, have different aromas, generated by phenolic compounds rising from the glass. The shape of the glass affects how these compounds are released, and subsequently how we perceive them through our sense of smell. The right glass not only releases the aromas to maximum effect but also delivers the wine to the part of our palate that allows us to taste the wine at its best. I know this might sound like a load of phenolics, but I’m a convert, and so are most people I’ve spoken to that have tested the theory.

The Riedel approach
This is the science on which Riedel have built their range of wine glasses. Last November, I was fortunate enough to be at a tasting masterclass with Max Riedel, the son of the Company’s founder. The results were amazing. We tasted a Pinot Noir from two different – very different – glasses. Out of the ‘proper’ glass, it was soft, smooth and rich – gorgeous. Out of the Cabernet Sauvignon glass the bitter notes framed everything and the wine tasted distinctly average, with no balance between the fruit and the tannins. He then reversed the process, with a Cabernet Sauvignon tasted from both glasses, and while I didn’t think the difference was as strong, it was still noticeable.

He then took the exercise a step further, getting us to melt some white chocolate in our mouths before going back to the Pinot Noir. This is when it got silly, with people almost taken aback at the difference the glasses made. Now, I know, Max was there to sell his glasses, but he did make a good comment at the end – ‘pity the poor winemaker whose wine is poured into the wrong glass’.

Some pointers (these are our own, based on experience and a bit of research):

Stemmed or stemless? Stemless if you tend to knock them over. I prefer stemmed for white wine, as handling stemless glasses just heats up the wine as you hold them. Stemless glasses also get very grubby over the course of an evening.

Waterford Glass or regular? Regular. By a mile. Leave the Waterford Glass in the display cabinet. Or put a candle in them for effect. Maybe some pot pourri. There are other leading Lead Crystal glass brands available to similarly ignore. The thinner a glass is the better it does its job.

Cheap or dear? A matter of personal choice. Busy households, with children and dogs, for instance, tend to be hard on glasses. Glasses will break eventually, but having dearer ones tends to make people look after them better. And even if they say they’re dishwasher-safe, don’t put them in the dishwasher. And don’t hold them by the base when drying them – always hold them by the bowl. The only problem with using the dearer, top-quality glasses is that it is very hard to go back to the cheap, thick-rimmed versions.

I do think the whole thing can get a bit silly, with a separate glass for every different grape variety, especially when you consider that most of the wines we drink are blends. But getting a couple of different types that cover the main styles is worth it, making that glass of wine more enjoyable. The glasses below cover, I believe, most requirements.

The larger glass on the left in the photo below is Riedel’s Syrah glass, while the smaller one is their Chianti Classico/Riesling Grand Cru glass, which tells you that some glasses suit both red and white wines.


In this photo (below), are three glasses used in the Riedel masterclass. The very large glass, which actually holds more than a bottle of wine, is the one used for Cabernet Sauvignon, while the smaller, more angular glass is for Pinot Noir. Finally, the smallest glass was used for an oaked chardonnay.


So, if you want to narrow it down and go with with a couple of styles, base it on your choice of wine along the following lines:

Fuller-bodied wines (South of France, Bordeaux, Rioja (Crianza & Reserva)): The Cabernet or Syrah style of glass.

Medium-Bodied (Chianti, Garnacha, young Riojas): The Chianti/Riesling glass.

Whites: Depending on body, either the Chainti/Riesling for lighter whites, or the oaked Chardonnay for fuller-bodied wines.

Clear as glass?