So you know enough about wine to avoid a hick move like pairing chardonnay with a standing rib roast. You know a merlot from a cab from a riesling. You know you need to serve wine in a wine glass, not a margarita glass or a highball glass or, horrors, a Solo cup.
But this is wine we’re talking about, the fussiest of alcoholic beverages, so it’s not as simple as a wine glass. You have to serve it the right wine glass or the people in your wine o’clock book club will talk about you. “Oh my God, she served a red blend from a tulip glass! I bet she wears ZZ Top T-shirts to weddings, too.”
Luckily for you, we’re here to save you from being a rube with this handy dandy lesson in wine glasses. There’s a science to wine glassware, with each type engineered to maximize a wine’s flavor. Let’s go through the basic types and review the wine to serve in each, shall we? Also, be sure to review our slideshow featuring the different glass styles and shapes, so you can recognize them on sight. It’s linked at the bottom of this post for your convenience.
Standard: This is the one you probably have in your cabinet, because it’s what everyone thinks of when you say, “wine glass.” It has a wide bowl and a medium-length stem. It’s designed for serving red wine, as the wide bowl lets the drinker inhale those earthy red aromas and allows some of the alcohol to evaporate, giving it a smoother taste. There are actually different bowl shapes for every type of red wine, if you’re into that sort of glassware precision.
Note: There’s science behind the stems on wine glasses, too. Stems give you a way to hold the glass without touching the bowl and warming the wine with your body heat.
Flute: You may have this one, too. It’s tall and thin with a narrow, deep bowl and a long stem. It’s good for champagne, Asti, Prosecco and other carbonated wines, because the narrow opening keeps your sparkly wine from going as flat as a day-old Diet Coke.
Pinot/Burgundy: This is a shorter glass with a wide bowl, a shape that puts the wine on the tip of your tongue where you can taste more of the fruitiness of a wine and less of the acidity. It’s a hybrid glass that’s good for delicate reds and chardonnay, the white grape of Burgundy, both of which are higher in acid.
Hock: Long-stemmed with a small bowl. “Hock” is an old-time word for German white wine, but you can use this glass for any young, sweet wine. It’s a model of wine glass engineering because its shape puts the wine on specific taste buds on your tongue, letting you taste its sweetness.
Note: Young wines have been in their bottle for just a year. They’re the elementary school kids of wine. Those 25-year-old reds you probably cannot afford are the grand dames of wine.
Tumbler: A sturdy glass that will hold up through many parties, since it doesn’t have a delicate stem to break. The bowl shape works for reds and whites. The bugaboo with a tumbler is that body heat from your hand will take the chill off the wine if you sip too slowly. To avoid the sadness of warm wine in this case, remind your guests to maintain a reasonable pace.
Glass or crystal?
There’s no right answer. Pick the one that best suits your lifestyle.
Crystal is heavier than glass. It can be spun into glasses with thin rims, desirable because they allow you to taste the wine instead of the glass. Crystal refracts light and looks elegant, the sort of thing you’d expect on the table of a Guilded Age robber baron. The downside: Crystal is expensive. Prices range from $30 to $120 per stem. Crystal glasses are high-maintenance. They must be hand-washed and dried, because dishwasher heat and detergent will make them cloudy.
Glass is thicker and more affordable than crystal, costing as little as $2 a stem. If you break it, no big deal. Run back to a discount store and buy more. Best of all, glass is dishwasher-safe. Our advice: Go with glass. The time you spend hand-washing that fancy crystal could be better spent drinking wine from cheap glasses. Party on.
Don’t store your glasses upside down.
Yes, you’ve heard this is proper because it keeps dust from accumulating in the glass. But turning them upside down may chip the rims, the most delicate part of the glass. The best way to store them is in a wine glass rack, so you can hang them upside down and keep dust out without damaging the glass. A wine glass rack makes you look like a sophisticate, too, so you’ll have that going for you.
I can’t afford to buy dedicated glasses for every type of wine.
Of course you can’t. You probably don’t have the cabinet space to store them, either. If you’re going to buy one set, go with six standard wine glasses, the kind used to serve red wine. Your friends won’t laugh at you if you serve white wine in them. If they do, they are not your friends. If you have room and budget for another set, get four to six champagne flutes that work with white or sparkling wines. Spend your money on wine, not wine glasses.