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SERVING: Glassware ...where size and shape matter

Even if one has mastered the wine tasting regimen of seeing, swirling, sniffing, sipping and savoring, the method is moot if the only available serving vessel is a "Dixie cup" or a "jelly glass". A glass designed for drinking wine has specific properties designed to enhance the sensory experience.

Glasses specifically for wine don't have to be expensive. Discount department stores stores often sell a box of six for $10 to $15. Yard, garage, or tag sales are a good source for 25¢ to $1 wine glasses. Sometimes mixed sets are more interesting than matched ones. For several years, the only wine glasses I owned were those I collected from charity wine tastings.

A traditional wine glass has three parts:


... the bowl,

... the stem,

... and the foot.

animated swirling glass.
glass stem.

Let's work our way up, evaluating the critical features of each part.

The foot or base should have a broad enough shape to prevent the glass from tipping over too easily, even when the bowl is filled to halfway. The foot also should be attached firmly enough to the stem to avoid snapping if held by the foot and swirled.

The purpose of the stem is to prevent body heat from the hand from warming the bowl and thus the wine. The stem needs to be long enough to grasp, while not too tall as to make the glass unstable. The stem also needs to be sturdy enough, as well as firmly enough attached to both the foot and the bowl, to avoid breakage in normal use and care.

Tinted or cut crystal may have its own intrinsic beauty, but these designs should be reserved for water service. The bowl of a wine glass should be transparent and without design that might obscure or prevent observing the color and clarity of the wine. Although not as durable as molded glass, lead crystal has the transparency and brilliance to allow wine to show its best.

The shape of the bowl is the most important feature of any wine glass. It should be curved and smooth on the inside to not inhibit swirling. Best that it also tapers inward slightly towards the rim. tulip versus balloon.This keeps the wine's smells focused towards the nose and somewhat prevents them from escaping into the atmosphere.

Of the two most common wine glass shapes, the "tulip" does a better job than the "balloon". Manufacturers such as Riedel produce many different glasses specifically designed to each serve a different type of wine. These may provide slight enhancements to enjoyment, but are by no means required.

A proper wine glass should be large enough to contain a full serving without approaching being halfway filled. A glass of from ten to fourteen ounce capacity works well. This provides adequate space for both swirling without spilling and to gain the "chimney effect" that concentrates and directs the vapors that carry the wine's smells. A glass of this size is also not so large as to be awkward or unwieldy.

ISO standard wineglass.The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has recognized a particular shape that is the accepted benchmark at all wine judgings and competitions. It is also suitable for the average wine drinker as an all around, every day glass. It should be made of transparent, colorless glass with a lead content of up to 9%. Its dimensions are just under 6 inches (155 mm) tall, with a two inch (5 cm) tall stem and a four-inch (100 mm) tall bowl, about two and a half inches (65 mm) at its widest diameter and two inches (46 mm) across the rim.

dueling flutes.Legend has it that the broad, shallow "Champagne glass" was modeled on Marie Antoinette's mammary attributes. This information may provide passing social titilation, but due to their broad surface area, these saucers-on-stems condemn chilled bubbly spirits to a brief life. Tall, narrow flutes prolong the chill and the bubbles much better.

Either an ISO glass (pictured) or an all-purpose wine glass, similar in shape and proportions to our illustration, may be used to serve both white and red wines and even sparkling or dessert wines, to the benefit of sensory pleasure.

A half dozen or so of these is a good place to start. Let usage guide your inventory; if you serve mostly reds and sparkling wines, for example, add a half dozen Champagne flutes. Entertain more? Add to your inventory accordingly.

No matter the size, shape, or cost of the wine glasses, if washing by hand, use the hottest water possible and only a very little hint of detergent, a drop or two on a sponge. Rinse thoroughly. In the automatic dishwasher, wash wine glasses by themselves and use no detergent. Immediately after the cycle, remove any water spots with a soft lintless cloth before storing.

Jim LaMar

Murray Almond, writing on The Wine of the Week site, asks
Are Real Riedel Glasses for Real? After testing the vessels, both by expert and novice, he provides his conclusions.

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Created July 24, 2011; Last Updated August 12, 2014
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All rights reserved under the DMCA of 1998. © by Jim LaMar.