In order to get the most enjoyment out of every bottle of wine, it is necessary to give at least a little thought to choosing the wine glasses that you plan to use. There are many different types of wine glasses, of varying styles and quality. There are a number of manufacturers of fine, and somewhat expensive, crystal glasses, designed specifically for use with certain wines, and some such glasses are illustrated on this page. It's not necessary to spend big bucks, however, as long as you purchase glasses, also often referred to as 'stemware', which obey a few simple rules.
Choosing Wine Glasses
When choosing wine glasses, firstly pay attention to the material from which it is made. At the very least, the glass must be plain and clear. Part of the enjoyment of wine is appreciation of the colour. The colour can also impart a lot of information about the wine, giving clues to the grapes used, the age of the wine, and so on. Consequently, wine glasses made from coloured or frosted glass, or worse still solid materials such as pewter or silver, are useless. I personally feel that cut crystal is also detrimental to the appearance of the wine, but this is a personal bugbear, which also relates to the size and shape (they are generally far too small) of many such glasses, which makes them completely inappropriate for the appreciation of wine.
Secondly, when choosing wine glasses, make sure that you select glasses which are of a sufficient size. The bowl should be large enough to allow a fair measure to be poured, whilst leaving enough room for the wine to be gently swirled without spilling the wine. This swirling action is to release aromas from the wine, and is therefore vitally important. Many types of wine glasses are so tiny that they must be filled to the brim in order to achieve a decent size pour, and these are therefore plainly inadequate.
The glass must have a stem, not just for aesthetic reasons, but mainly so that the wine glass may be held without covering the bowl in greasy fingerprints. Holding by the stem also ensures that warmth from the hand does not increase the temperature of a wine that has been served chilled, although in practice I've never found this to be a real problem. Watch any accomplished wine taster and you will notice that their hand very rarely touches the bowl, as it quickly becomes second nature to hold the glass only by the stem or base.
So, in choosing our wine glasses, we have selected a style made from clear glass, which has a stem, and is of a decent size. Surely there are no other important considerations? There are, however, as the shape of the bowl is of considerable importance. Good wine glasses taper in somewhat at the top, so that the aperture is narrower than the bowl lower down. Whilst this appearance is aesthetically pleasing, it is also of functional importance. A wine taster will use a swirling action to release precious aromas from the wine, and this tapered shape serves to concentrate the aromas towards the nose. This design is particularly evident in glasses designed for Pinot Noir, in which appreciation of the full range of aromas is so important in enjoying the wine.
Types of Wine Glasses
Most wine drinkers would agree that different styles of wines demand different types of wine glasses. At its most basic, think of the preferred wine glasses for Champagne and sparkling wines (a flute), red wines (a wine glass with a larger bowl) and white wines (a smaller bowl). This led to the development of the concept that close matching of the type of wine glass to the style of wine would be of benefit to the wine drinker, a concept which a number of manufacturers of wine glasses have grasped firmly with both hands. On such manufacturer is Riedel, an Austrian firm, that makes a huge range of wine glasses, of many different types, suited to every conceivable style of wine available.
Personally feel such a large range is overkill. Even this small selection
of mainly Riedel glasses, illustrated left, would be too many for all but
the more serious wine drinker. I suspect most wine drinkers could quite
adequately get by with just two or three different types of wine glasses. I
would suggest as starting point the three types of wine glasses mentioned
above - a standard glass for whites, something a little larger, perhaps, for
reds, and of course a flute or similar style for Champagne or sparkling
Looking After Your Glasses
Much is written about how to treat glasses, but there are again only a few simple rules. Glasses should be washed between use, and although some advocate using hot water alone, and some advise use of detergent, I have no particular preference. Those that use detergent should, however, ensure that they give the glasses a thorough rinsing afterwards, as even just a trace of lemon or similarly scented washing-up liquid can ruin the nose of a wine. Whichever you prefer, always hold the glasses up to the light to check they are clean. A superficially clean looking glass may in fact be covered in a fine coat of scum which is difficult to remove with just gentle washing. This can adversely affect the wine, particularly sparkling wines or Champagne, which will not demonstrate their fizz if placed into a glass like this. Once washed, allow the glasses to drip dry. Once dry, a quick polish will quickly rid them of any residual water marks, which look a little unsightly but are easily removed. Store them standing upright in a clean, odour-free cupboard ready for use.