This week we’re going to be talking about the intimate relationship between wine and glass. Seems trivial, no? Wine and glass are as close a marriage as wine and food. Wine is stored and transported in glass bottles, served in glass vessels, and sometimes even vinified (made into wine) in glass lined tanks. Hence, any given wine will have more contact with glass than any other material in its entire life.
Do wine glasses matter?
Firstly, let’s focus on what you, as a FirstCrush wine drinker, encounter most: wine glasses! Wine glasses, of course, come in all shapes and sizes… and that’s where it gets interesting. So first you’re going to ask, does the glass really make a difference? Absolutely! If a wine were poured into two distinctly different glasses and blind tasted side by side, the average person would be unlikely to identify both glasses as containing the same wine. This phenomenon is borne out time and time again at professional tastings, and has to do with the physics of how the wine reacts to the air and then interacts with your olfactory and gustatory organs… If you doubt me, try it out!
What sorts of glasses do you need?
In any wine glass, you should look for an oval shaped bowl with a noticeably tapered rim to catch the escaping aromatics and focus them to your nose. I would typically avoid stemless glasses for whites as your hand will warm the wine as you drink, and I also like to store my glasses hanging upside down by the base to avoid trapping stale air or collecting dust. A “coppa di vino” is another type of wine glass that has an almost triangular shape to the bowl and little or no taper to the rim. Very interesting look but because of this bowl shape, too much of the vaporized aromas escape and you tend to lose a substantial amount of the wine’s overall sensation. Remember, most of the specific flavors are actually perceived by your nose, not your mouth. Also, if you’re serious about tasting wine don’t buy colored or even textured glasses… They only prevent you from seeing what’s going on inside the glass, which can be really fascinating!
For most people, it is suitable to have a set of whites, a set of reds, and set of champagne flutes. White glasses are smaller in order to keep the wine cooler and focus the limited aromatics from a cold glass all towards your nose. For a red you’re looking for a larger bowl to allow the complex aromatics to waft up, and also to help aerate the wine as you drink. Champagne flutes are important to focus the trajectory of the bubbles (and also to look tres elegant!). But of course there are so many types of there!
(courtesy of Riedel, check out their cool wine glass chooser at http://www.wineglassguide.com/)
The next step after this would be to expand to two types of red glasses, a Cabernet/Syrah stem and a Burgundy bulb. Cabernet/Syrah glasses look like a large, upright white wine glass, they have an oval shaped bowl and a gentle taper. They direct the wine towards the back of your palate where you can appreciate the fullness of the flavor and tannin. They are suitable for all full bodied reds, and should be your red wine glass of choice if you only buy one type. The Burgundy bulb will have a wide, flat bowl with a lightly tapered opening in order to appreciate more delicate, complex flavors and aromatics of lighter reds such as Pinot noir or Gamay, and even a nice rich Chardonnay or White Burgundy!
Beyond the normal
It’s also possible to explore a bit: I prefer my Chardonnays served in Burgundy glasses as I find I get a lot more of the floral expression this way, and also they warm the wine a bit which I find quite appealing, especially if the Chardonnay is of some quality. You should experiment to see which wines you prefer in which glasses. Other wines you might try in a “Burg” (as it’s often called for short) are Nebbiolo (Barolo, Barbaresco), Lighter Southern Rhone Blends and Italian Dolcetto d’Alba. Conversely, some American Pinot Noirs are so stout that I might upgrade them to a Cabernet glass, and a crisp, unoaked Chardonnay such as Kim Crawford from New Zealand might be better served in a small white wine glass. The question is one of preference.
What kind of material?
When you buy your wine glasses you will be faced with a daunting array of prices. I personally keep a set of Riedel Crystal (White, Burgundy, Cabernet, Champagne) and then a few basic all-purpose glasses (not too big, not too small, but don’t forget the tapered rim!) for everyday use. So why spend the extra money on some good crystal? Well, it’s just a treat to drink out of. You can feel its delicacy and thinness and I find that just the sensation of the crystal really enhances the occasion of a special bottle of wine. Also, wine experts swear that crystal has a micro texture that actually provides more surface from which the wine can vaporize, and therefore enhances the aromatics. You be the judge. My Riedel Wine Series glasses are a basic high quality, machine blown crystal and run around $30 for a two glass set on Amazon. Other lines and manufacturers can vary slightly lower and far higher in price.
If you do spring for crystal however, be advised that the thinness makes them VERY delicate, so for most homes they are unsuitable as the only glass type… You will find it financially advantageous to keep a basic set of plain glass around for not-so-special bottles. You also need to wash them carefully to avoid breaking them: the dishwasher is a no-no, hot water and a little soap is your best bet. You will do well also to buy a microfiber polishing cloth (approx. $10) to keep them pristine. To polish, push one side of the cloth into the bowl and wrap the other around the outside, and then support the glass from both sides with both your hands as you gently work the cloth around the glass. Even too much friction can break the delicate crystal. Try to avoid the temptation to hold the glass by the base and turn it, this can lead to a snapped stem. With practice, you will be able to do this efficiently and without breaking anything, but at first be very gentle and go slowly. The right cloth will help a lot too, Riedel makes one that is excellent.
Now that you have purchased the perfect glasses, let us tell you why your wine comes in specific bottles in our next installment: stay tuned!
Brian Aderer (email@example.com)