Wine pros agree: you'll give your vino a boost when you use the right glass.

By Laura Fisher
August 18, 2020
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Let’s admit it, sometimes wine just tastes best when you drink it out of a juice glass on a picnic or a plastic cup beachside. But for those moments when you want to get fancy and enjoy a special bottle or elevate a slightly lackluster vino, experts agree: using the right glass can seriously upgrade your wine varietal of choice. And yes, this trick works on everything from Pinot Noir and Malbec to Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, and even sparkling wines.

We asked two experts for their top tips on selecting a wine glass: Sam Tuttle, certified sommelier, and Maximilian J Riedel, president and CEO of Riedel Glassware. There are a lot of factors to consider when picking a wine glass, and it can be fun to explore all the options and learn more about how to maximize your quaffing experience. At the end of the day, though, it isn't necessary to get too caught up in the sheer amount of information and options for wine glasses. “You name a grape, and there’s probably a specific glass for a premium price. I think this might complicate things for the average wine drinker,” Tuttle says. “I can’t stress enough that wine is supposed to be fun. If you don’t have the perfect glass, grab any vessel you can find and enjoy that bottle!”

Why Does It Matter What Kind of Glass You Drink From?

Both Riedel and Tuttle stress the aesthetic importance of glassware as the sensory introduction to the entire wine drinking experience. "You associate the gentle ringing of a nice crystal glass after a cheers with opulence, and the clunk of a dollar store glass with necessity," says Tuttle. "You react to the feel of a feather-light handblown glass with fascination of craftsmanship...and if you stare deep into your finely crafted glass, you’ll notice an array of colors around the glass that extend far beyond purple, red, and yellow.”

In addition, drinking your favorite bottle out of a glass designed to enhance that type of wine will taste better because of the way the wine is introduced to your nose, tongue, and cheeks. 

Size Matters, Shape, Too

“The biggest mistake I often see is the selection of the wrong shape and size of a glass that stifles the wine served in it,” says Reidel. A wine glass’ shape and size will affect how a wine’s aromas, flavors, and true color are showcased within the glass. This is due to the amount of room that certain wines, like Bordeaux, Pinot Noir, and some whites like oaked Chardonnay,  need to aerate, or "breathe." Allowing oxygen in will help some of the ethanol dissipate and even soften tannins, which are the compounds that can sometimes make red wine taste bitter. 

Consider the Rim

The angle and shape of a glass’ rim, or lip, can be a serious contributor in how we taste wine. “The rim of a glass acts as the integral varietal specific conductor that can alter the aromas and flavors of a wine. If a wine’s aroma is nuanced, then a tapered rim helps to concentrate the aromas. These details may seem subtle, but they enhance a wine in the way a generic glass may not,” Riedel explains. This is why thick glassware with a chunky, rolled rim can often do a disservice to wine. Glasses like feather-light Zalto are super thin and elegant, but can pose a risk for breakage. Riedel’s glasses are thin enough to highlight your wine, but can withstand normal wear and tear. 

Red, White, and Bubbly Basics

Tuttle offers the following basic principles for choosing a varietal-specific size and shape for your wine glass.

For reds, if you can’t see through the wine (e.g., Cabernet), go for a big, Bordeaux-style glass with a large, tall bowl. If you can see through the wine (e.g., a more delicate Pinot Noir), opt for a Burgundy glass, which combines a tapered rim with a large bowl to concentrate the more delicate aromas. 

For whites, Tuttle says you can get away with a catch-all glass, since whites don’t have tannins to consider. White glasses tend to be slimmer in size and shape to direct the aromas straight to your palate. “These are what I prefer to drink champagne out of as well, as it allows more space than a flute to open up and shows the full, complex range of aromatic compounds that we love,” he adds. 

The Stem vs. Stemless Debate

To stem, or not to stem? Riedel explains that the choice depends mostly on lifestyle factors like cupboard space and how many children and pets you have running around the house, which could pose a danger to delicate, long-stemmed glassware. 

For those who are looking to dive a bit deeper and get a better understanding of the wine in your glass, Tuttle advocates for stemmed glasses. "Glassware is highly sensitive to body heat and even holding a stemless glass for five minutes can increase the temperature of your wines to a not-so-optimal level. Also, you'll notice fingerprints start to be left behind and will make analyzing the beautiful color of your wine difficult," he explains. Having a set of stemless for more precarious situations and one set of stemmed for those special bottles (or date nights sans kids) could be a good strategy. 

The Two Types of Glasses You Should Own

With all of the above points considered, at the end of the day your lifestyle, personal preferences, and how much you want to spend will really dictate how deep you want to go in extending your wine glass collection.

For those looking to do a basic upgrade, Tuttle offers the following simple tips: "For drinkers looking to upgrade their glassware, I recommend having one set of ‘universal’ or all-purpose glasses for everyday drinking and one set of Burgundy glasses. You can cover a broad spectrum of wines with your universal, from Champagne to Cabernet, and your Burgundy glasses will be there for your more delicate wines." And if there is another specific varietal that you commonly enjoy at home, like a Riesling or Syrah, Riedel recommends splurging for a varietal-specific glass to make your nightly ritual just a little bit more special.