It’s All About the Glass: Elevate Your Wine-Drinking Experience

What’s the role of glass as the essential material for wine appreciation?

Annabelle D’Costa

If you’ve been sipping wine from a plastic glass or chugging it straight from the bottle (we’re not judging), you are drinking it all wrong. But does the receptacle from which you sip on a celebrated vintage of wine makes a difference in appreciating the nuances of wine?

Sonal Holland, India’s only Master of Wine, says yes. Quoting the author of How to Drink, Victoria Moore, “like buying a state-of-the-art sound system and fitting it to cheap speakers.” While it may not be scientifically proven, Magandeep Singh, India’s first French-qualified sommelier, says that even if it's a placebo effect, it's worth the upgrade to a better glass.  

The earliest wine glasses, during the Roman reign, were made of gold and silver. Over centuries the glass has evolved. The predecessor of the current wine glass with a bowl, stem and foot was found in the 15th century. The primary design has remained the same, but the quality of material used and size has changed—from enamelled and cut glass to finally crystal.

It wasn’t until the early 1970s when Austria-based glassmaker Claus Riedel of the Riedel Crystal Company changed stemware from traditional coloured and cut glass to plain, unadorned, thin blown, long stemmed wine glasses. His experiment was later validated by 2015 study in Japan used a sniffer-camera for imaging the ethanol vapourisation from the wine glass, highlighting the role of glass as a material of critical importance to the wine-drinking experience.

Material Matters

A regular wine glass is a good starting point for someone who is new to the world of wine. Not only is it dishwasher-safe but it can also be as delicate and beautiful as crystal stemware. However, as you progress on your personal wine-drinking journey, you might want to consider investing in crystal glasses to elevate your experience. Crystal glasses are expensive, but they can be spun thinner to create a very thin rim, and also appear more seamless, delicate and elegant, Holland explains. Besides, crystal also shines more and has more luminosity, all of which help enhance the wine-drinking experience.

Thickness of glass

The thickness of a wine glass's rim impacts how the wine flows onto your tongue while you take a sip. Thicker wine glasses, despite being durable, have rolled edges that inhibit the smooth flow of the wine and tend to accentuate acidity and harshness, suggests one of the How-To Guide Wine on the Wall Street Journal. The guide further states that thin glass, in comparison, helps the wine stay cool and their cut rims allow the wine to flow smoothly onto the tongue. A wine glass with a tapered rim will help suspend the wine's aroma at the top of the glass while directing the flow of wine toward the front palate, highlighting rich fruit flavours. The tapered shape also helps prevent spills!

A case for shapes

One of Riedel’s discovery during one of their tastings was: “The same wine displayed completely different characteristics when served in a variety of glasses. The differences were so great that experienced connoisseurs were made to believe that they were tasting different wines.” Turns out, shape does matter, which was also validated by the 2015 study—the effect of different wine glass shapes and temperatures showed different vapour patterns and vapour densities, which in turn, helps us perceive taste.

Holland explains that the shape of the bowl determines how the wine opens up, breathes and aerates. A wider bowl increases the surface area of the wine that's exposed to air and encourages alcohol evaporation, which creates what's known as the wine's aroma. Because so much of what you taste is dependent on what you smell, the aroma of a wine can drastically alter its taste.

Stem vs stemless glasses

“The stem exists so that you can hold the glass without letting your body temperature meddle with the ideal temperature of the wine in your hand. The base, on the other hand, holds the glass steadily,” explains Holland. While stemless glasses may be having their moment in the sun, she finds them confounding. However, stemless wine glasses do offer distinct advantages over their stemmed cousins such as on airlines or in an unsteady environment where there is a chance for the wine to spill if held by the stem.

The right glass for the right wine:

“How much to spend on a wine glass is subjective depending on the buyer: quality and affordability,” shares Magandeep Singh. However, his top picks are Schott Zwiesel, Lucaris and Ocean. “Ziesel is a great brand. Despite it being high-end, it is the gold standard for glassware,” he shares. In terms of affordability, Ocean’s wine glasses offer great value for money. You can get them from e-commerce sites such as BigBasket, Amazon, and PepperFry.

Riedel, on the other hand, offers both, machine-made as well as handmade glasses, which makes them more premium. The Riedel collection can be purchased either on Amazon or Flipkart. Zwiesel glasses, made from titanium-based lead-free crystal, are resistant to scratching, breaking or chipping and can be purchased via Amazon.

On a side note, universal glasses—all-purpose wine glasses that are ideal for sipping on red, white and even sparkling wine—are a great idea for someone who doesn’t want to bother with the multitude of styles available in the market.

Here’s a handy guide to help you enhance your wine-drinking experience:

1. For sparkling and white wines (not oaked):

A glass with a very narrow bowl and tip helps accentuate the acidity and is considered more appropriate as it holds the bubbles together and allows it to rise eloquently within the glass and to your palate, shares Holland. She also opines that the same logic appeals to crisp white wines that are not oaked.

2. For oaked or full-bodied white wines:

 A glass with a broader base and a narrow tip will help the wine open up while it also lands at the tip of your palate.

3. For full-bodied red wines:

A glass with a border-based bowl so that there’s plenty of room to allow the wine to aerate and open up and exude the aromas completely. 



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