Does the type of wine glass really matter?
I’ve been having this argument with a friend of mine for weeks. Does the type of glassware you use for wine really matter?
Personally, I threw the rules on that one out the window years ago. While, in a restaurant or tasting setting, or even if I just drop a lot dough on a great bottle, I absolutely agree that proper glassware goes a long way.
When I’m in the privacy of my own home, I’ve been known to drink wine out of everything from my tiny vintage cut crystal stems to mason jars. My friend Jack, on the other hand literally keeps a case of Burgundy and Bordeaux glasses in the trunk of his car. Not being one to just stubbornly stick to my assumptions, I did a little research.
Are all wine glasses good?
When I first started in the wine business, I worked in a retail shop that, in addition to wine, also sold Riedel glassware. And I mean everything from the standard red and white glasses to whiskey and port glasses. It seemed like a little bit of overkill, to be honest. Even in the early 2000s, however, people were still clinging to the thought that the shape of the glass was tailored to properly distribute wine on to the appropriate part of your tongue in line with the tongue map or taste map. It seemed legit and who doesn’t want a tailored product that makes their wine taste better?
However, that model was disproved all the way back in 1974! While certain taste buds have certain receptors for each type of taste, they are not in fact clustered together in specific regions. So, there went that theory! But maybe there was still some merit to these fancy glasses?
There were two areas where Jack and I did agree. One was that stemless wine glasses were terrible because it caused you to inadvertently heat up your wine with your hands. The other was that champagne flutes were garbage. Yes, they’re pretty and the shape of a flute helps keep the wine from losing its bubbles too quickly, but you can’t really get in there and smell it!
So maybe the trick was that the shape of the glass created a more dynamic aromatic experience; I could buy that. It’s easier to swirl a glass of wine (an act which allows oxygen to open up the wine, releasing more of its aromas) in a bigger glass. You can also actually get your nose in there and see what’s going on. Perhaps having that extra surface area to coat with wine in a bigger bowl allowed for an even more pronounced aromatics.
What does science say?
The scientific community was curious as well, it seems. There was a study conducted in 2015 at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University by Kohji Mitsubayashi to find the diffusion rates of ethanol (the type of alcohol present in wine, beer, and spirits) across different glasses.
The study found that the alcohol concentration on the rim of the glass is higher than in the center meaning that in the center of the glass, where most of us stick our nose to smell a wine, there is less ethanol wafting up with the rest of what the wine is trying to say. The study also found that in a wide rimmed or straight glass (think martini glass and collins glass respectively), this phenomenon did not occur.
Source: via mitsubayashi lab/tokyo medical and dental university/inst of buimaterials and bioengineering
What wine glasses to buy?
So, yes, a tapered bowl wine glass allows you to get a better handle on the aromatics in a glass of wine. I’ll buy that. I’ll even concede that being able to better smell a glass of wine enhances your taste experience. Smell goes a long way with taste. But does it really make that much of a difference, all the time?
Even Maximilian Riedel himself conceded, saying “I won’t ask you to buy a $100 glass to drink a $10 wine.” There are always going to be those moments when you really don’t particularly care whether or not you can smell a wine’s full potential. If I’m having a glass of wine while I’m cooking, I don’t much care if I can smell the soil it was planted in. If I’m sitting on the beach enjoying some good company and the sunset I really don’t want to worry about glassware.
So, yes. It seems they do make some difference in the overall experience. I imagine proper wine glass is especially helpful in blind tastings. But, if you’re just trying to enjoy your Tuesday night dinner wine and don’t much care to overanalyze it, I say use whatever glass you like!
And if you need a piece of advice on best matching wines, download Wine Picker, a wine app for Android and iOS that will help to find the right wine for your food and budget!