People who know wine glasses differ on some finer points but agree pretty much across the board on one thing: thin gets the win. A proper wine glass is made of thin glass, preferably hand-blown crystal, and has the thinnest possible rim.
When you are shopping for a glass, place your thumb and forefinger on the rim and scrape your fingernails upward. If there is any sort of bump or lip, or anything that catches your fingernails on either side, slowly place the glass back where you found it and run for the horizon. The rim of your glass doesn’t need a speed bump; it needs to get wine into your mouth as effortlessly as possible. It seems like a small thing but it makes a big difference.
Probably the biggest responsibility of a good glass is to corral and deliver a wine’s aromas up into your nose, and this brings us to the traditional shapes of wine glasses. Common thinking suggests that a big red wine like cabernet sauvignon goes into a Bordeaux glass (straight sides); a delicate red wine like pinot noir goes into a Burgundy glass (fishbowl shape); white wine goes into a smaller Bordeaux glass; riesling goes into a tulip glass (flared-out rim), sparkling wine goes into a flute (tall and skinny); and dessert wine goes into a teensy receptacle that is nothing more than an even smaller version of a Bordeaux or tulip glass.
Hogwash. Well, partial hogwash. Put your pinot noir and other delicate reds, along with your chardonnay in a Burgundy glass, and put everything else in a Bordeaux glass. This includes big reds, dry whites, rieslings, dessert wines and sparkling wines. My eyebrows arched the first time I saw someone pouring bubbly into a Bordeaux glass, but after seeing enough reputable producers doing the same thing I stopped caring about flutes.
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We could conclude here that if you don’t like pinot noir, you don’t need a fishbowl glass. But like Sasquatch, people who don’t like pinot noir are really hard to find. The bottom line is, you need just those two glasses. If you are really pressed for space (or patience) and you want only one glass, go with Bordeaux, the classic potato chip of wine glasses. Make sure that it tapers. The sides are straight but as they rise, they must converge. All great wine glasses do this. If you have ever seen a wine glass with straight sides that don’t taper, you have actually seen a water glass.
Buy wine glasses that are as thin and elegant as you can afford, as light and delicate as you can wash without breaking. As you know, wine tasting is all about wine smelling, and heightened enjoyment is directly related to anticipation. The beautiful aromas of wine prepare your palate for the hedonistic wash that is soon to follow. You get those sensations with the aid of a really elegant, well-designed glass.
You could spend more than $100 per glass but you would not have to spend more than $10 or $15. That’s 40 to 60 bucks total (because it’s no fun drinking alone), an investment that will pay dividends for years. In the company of pedestrian containers, people have had life-changing conversations. They’ve made business deals and children, had epiphanies about their existence, been nourished and even caught fleeting whiffs from their childhood – or their future. But they have also missed many great aromas and flavors, and sacrificed the full range of sensuality that wine-drinking so often provides. If only they had had better glasses.