Shining the Light on Wine Glasses

January 18th, 2012

By Guest Contributor Kirsten Fox, Headmistress, Fox School of Wine

I have to level with you, before I researched wine glass shapes, I thought the whole thing was just a great marketing ploy. After my research… I can say that there is actually logic behind the concept. To check out the subject, I went to the web, Wikipedia, Riedel wine glass company, a five-star hotel and a bunch of wine-geek sites (light research at best, but interesting).

First, your enjoyment of wine is not just about taste. A good 70% of the information in each sip comes from the aromas that you smell as you drink. So smell is the most important sensory organ in regards to experiencing wine.

Turns out that as liquids evaporate, the aromas associated with them fill a glass in layers according to their density. The heaviest aromas, those associated with wood and alcohol remain closest to the wine’s surface. The aromas that are slightly lighter fill the middle of the bowl and are reminiscent of green vegetable scents and earthy, mineral components. The lightest, most fragile aromas, fruit and flowers, rise to the top of the layers.

So, based on the fact that different varietals have specifically different characteristics – i.e. Chardonnay is often wooded with higher alcohol, or Pinot Noir is both fruity and earthy, or Zinfandel is high in alcohol and big on fruit – you can design a glass shape that enhances the characteristics of the particular aroma profile of the grape. Hence, if you have a heavy alcohol Zinfandel to serve, emphasizing that aspect of the wine accidentally by serving it in a glass shape that emphasizes alcohol, may overwhelm the other qualities of the wine, thus diminishing your enjoyment of it.

Wow. I love wine and now I’ve learned that I might be limiting my enjoyment of each glass? So I question: What about swirling? Doesn’t that mix up the aromas?

Turns out, no, unless you want to actually shake your wine with a lid on, the aromas stay at their specific density level, even as you swirl. Darn.

I went to the venerable five-star, five-diamond Stein Eriksen Lodge in Park City, Utah. What do their restaurants carry to show off wine?

Sommelier and Wine Director at Stein Eriksen Lodge, Cara Schwindt, says that their restaurants offer nine different shapes of glasses for everything from sparklers to Port. But that’s in their restaurants.

When asked about home use? “Two types of wine glasses are necessary,” Schwindt explains. “A flute, and a regular wine glass with clear, thin-walls and enough room in the bowl to hold several ounces of wine for swirling.” Stemless wine glasses, she pointed out, are great and can be placed in the top rack of a dishwasher.

So I’ve come full circle. Although I’d love to try out all these shapes with many different wines, I’ve got buy in from an expert that you don’t really have to have them.

Now I can still think more about what’s in the glass than the glass itself. Thank goodness and cheers!

Editor’s note: Have a favorite glass that you use for wine? Tell us about it.

2 Responses to “Shining the Light on Wine Glasses”

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