If you've ever been confounded by how to work your way through a formal setting of silverware (always work from the outside in), you may have had the same reaction when confronted with multiple styles of wine glasses. It's easy enough to just drink what is being poured, but one does have to wonder—why are there so many different shapes and sizes?
The answer is simple: Science!
The different shapes of wine glasses simply allow you to smell and taste wine better. A 2016 study from the Institute of Biomaterials and Bioengineering at Tokyo Medical and Dental University found that when the bowl of a glass is wider than the rim, the smell of alcohol does not permeate the rim. This allows those who are sniffing to detect the nuances of the wine itself.
"The shape of the wine glass has a very sophisticated and functional design for tasting and enjoying the aroma of the wine," the report concludes.
Because the senses of smell and taste are intricately linked, being able to smell the wine means you can also better taste it, something to which anyone who suffers from Santa Fe's allergy season can certainly attest.
At a recent dinner at Arroyo Vino (218 Camino La Tierra, 983-2100), the pinot noir was served in the appropriate wide-bottomed red glass. As a comparison, our server also provided a swirl in a thinner-bottomed, higher-walled glass normally reserved for white wines. It was no contest, and the larger bowl of the red glass actually did make the smells in the wine more intense, and therefore the taste was different.
Chances are, unless you are in the home of a wine connoisseur or at a specialized tasting, it's unlikely you'll be faced with many choices in glassware. When it comes down to it, there are really three basic glass shapes: those for red wines, white wines and sparkling wines.
Red wine glasses have a wider bowl and may be a bit shorter than white wine glasses, which tend to have a smaller bowl and higher sides. Sparkling wines can be consumed from a white wine glass, though they are most popularly served in the standard flute (think Champagne toast). And though these all have different shapes, here's what they have in common:
The base: Probably the most important part of a wine glass because without one (unless you have lots of cats, and therefore prefer stemless drinkware) your wine would be all over the table instead of in your mouth.
The stem: The stem exists to keep your grubby hands off the bowl of the glass. Holding a glass by the bowl allows your body heat to warm the wine. While this is fine if whatever you are drinking is too cold, it's not so good if you're, say, trying to enjoy a spicy malbec on a warm day. Holding a glass by the stem also ensures your fingers don't touch the rim of the glass. By doing so, you can deposit the taste of lotions, perfumes, stinky dogs or anything else your fingers may have recently made contact with. The stem allows one to keep control of the glass without potential odors from hands affecting the drinker's nose.
The bowl: This is obviously the best part of the glass, because it's where the wine goes! A wider bowl than rim allows for proper swirling of the wine, which unlocks the array of aromas. The larger the bowl, the more surface area to be covered; the more surface area, the more release of aroma. For proper swirling, a glass should never be more than one-third full, giving the wine plenty of room to move and emit its inherent enticements.
The rim: This is the area you drink from. A good wine glass has as thin a rim as possible, allowing for the wine to be easily and seamlessly deposited into the lucky drinker's mouth.
Beyond these commonalities, wine glasses come in all shapes and sizes, created to maximize the unique scents and flavors of different grape varietals. Popular producer Riedel offers a handy wine glass guide as a main function of its website store (riedel.com/en-us/shop), for those looking to find glass specific to their taste of wine. These range from a standard red wine glasses to exotics such as "Extreme Shiraz" and "Performance Pinot Noir." Such purchases are as subjective as wine tasting notes, but the experts at Riedel "always recommend you think about what your favorite grape varieties are, both red and white wine. If you can't live without shiraz, buy some shiraz glasses. If you go crazy for oaked chardonnay, purchase the right glass for it. Don't compromise on the things you love!"