Wine Glasses

You have probably heard that a glass or two of wine a day might actually be good for your health. There has been a funny photo circulating the internet of a person with a huge glass, with the caption, “one glass of wine a day – doctors’ orders”. It got me thinking about how the wine glass you use affects the wine.
A couple years ago, I attended a Riedel tasting. I was a skeptic about a wine glass making any kind of difference in the enjoyment of wine. The first thing I learned was the Riedel is pronounced like it rhymes with “needle, not ‘Rid-el”, as I had always said it.

Windward Vineyard Photo
Let’s look at the basics of a wine glass. It is usually made up of three parts: the bowl, the stem, and the foot. The highest quality wine glasses are made of lead crystal. Why leaded crystal? It’s claimed that lead crystal has a higher light refraction index, allowing for better observation of the wine in your glass. Secondly, leaded crystal (on a microscopic level) has a rougher surface area, allowing the wine to open up more when swirled, creating a better environment for evaluating the aromas of the wine.

According to the Riedel representative, conducting the tasting, the selection of the wine glass for a wine style is important, as the glass shape can influence its’ perception.

The wine glass affects the interaction of the wine with air. Taste is largely impacted by the smell of the wine. So, the glass should affect flavor. For example, the wider the bowl, the more "breathing" the wine might experience. This is why red wine glasses are bigger than white wine glasses. The larger bowl lets you aerate red wine more, softening the tannins.

Stemless Glass
The shape and size of the rim of the glass also plays an important role in the ultimate wine experience. According to the Riedel people, the rim helps determine where the wine is directed into your mouth. For example, some shapes direct the wine flow to the center of the tongue, while others focus on the tip of the tongue. Each spot of your tongue is thought to sense certain flavors differently (see my blog on taste). Through trial and error, the makers of fine glassware were able to direct the wine flow to help accentuate the key components of the wine.

Another consideration is having a stem on the glass or not. This allows you hold the glass without affecting the serving temperature of the wine. It also lets you see the color of the wine without your hand getting in the way. The newest trend seems to be stemless glassware (mainly because if anything is going to break…it’s going to be the stem). I still have trouble with these. I like to swirl and observe the wine in the glass, and find these difficult to work with. When it comes to breaking the stems…the best advice I heard was, “don’t drink and dry”. Most wine glasses are broken while cleaning and drying the glass. I always put a little water in the glass (to avoid a wine stain), then clean them in the morning.

Sommelier Glass w/ Scarecrow
Speaking of cleaning – never use soap on your wine glasses (particularly champagne flutes). The soap residue will affect the flavor of your wine, and, in the case of sparkling wines, creates a film on the glass, that smoothes out the surface of the glass. Remember those microscopic rough surfaces, created by leaded crystal? They help release the carbon dioxide gas trapped inside the sparkling wine. Soap film will dramatically reduce this affect. So, always just wash with very warm water, and allow to dry. If there are stubborn lipstick stains, you can always steam the area in front of a tea pot, or boiling water. If placed on a shelf, the glasses should be stored with the bowl facing up. Yes, they might collect dust (unless you are like me, and use your glasses quite often). If they are stored rim side down, they can absorb the aromas in your shelf.

I said I was skeptical in the beginning. No longer. I am a firm believer in the affects your stemware has on the ultimate wine experience. If you have not been to a Riedel tasting, I encourage you to try it.


  1. I am thrilled that I found this article! You have really made your points clear and your material is easy to read because you have formatted it so well. Thank you for your excellent work!

  2. Thanks for sharing. We are decorators of Wine Glasses and personalize them for our customers, and have been selling stemmed Glasses for years. Recently we have noticed a surge in the number of request for "stem-less" Glasses. This was more influenced by fashion trends, and a change in personal style especially for folks that had been using the normal glasses with stem for the past few decades we figured. :)