Let’s see if I can remember what I learned at a seminar conducted by wine glassmaker Riedel several years ago at the Kendall-Jackson tasting room in Sonoma County…
First and foremost, there are four “sensations” in wine:
- Bouquet — the wine’s aroma.
- Texture — how the fine “feels” in the mouth (creamy, silky, velvety).
- Flavor — how the fruitfulness, acidity, minerality, bitter components and “oakiness” (if any) of the wine intermingle.
- Finish — the after-flavor of the wine, which can be quite long… if the wine is good and the proper-shaped glass is being used.
Okay, I didn’t really learn that stuff at the Riedel seminar. I already knew it through years of “study.” But what the seminar did bring home is that the shape of a wine glass’s bowl really can make a difference, and that the proper shape varies from variety to variety.
That day, the Riedel educator brought out at least eight different glasses, each one designed for a specific variety. For each variety, a wine was served in a “regular” glass — the kind you’d find at a restaurant’s bar — and also in a glass designed specifically for the variety.
For me, the point was really made clear with the Sauvignon Blanc sample. When served in a “traditional” white wine glass, it came across as flabby and kind of watery; there wasn’t that much flavor apparent. But when the same wine was served in a glass designed specifically for Sauvignon Blanc, it came alive, revealing a wide spectrum of aromas and flavors.
Of course, getting a full set of variety-specific glassware can require a big investment. So when I returned home, I decided to do some experimenting of my own. You want to know what I found?
I really needed only one style of glass — one with a large bowl and a wide mouth, the kind typically used for “big” red wines. You see, the positives that glass design bring to red wines — providing the opportunity for a wine to “breathe” and show off all of its aromas and flavors — also apply to white wines… and rosé wines.
The more “expressive” the wine, the more its specific nuances will be revealed in a glass with a big bowl and a wide rim.
Try it yourself with any glass of quality Chardonnay. Pour some in the glass you normally use, and pour some in a glass with a big bowl and a wide rim. Swirl each, and then stick your nose deeply into each glass. You’ll note how the aromas in the big glass are more intense and, depending on the specific wine, more varied and complex.
Next, after another swirl, taste the wines. The one in the smaller glass should be fine, but the one in the larger glass should really shine with additional layers of flavors.
The bottom line is that I agree with the folks at Riedel that size and shape do matter when it comes to wine glasses. But it’s my belief that only one type of glass is needed in order to experience all the wonders of many types of wine.
And when you think about it, my approach leaves more money for buying more wine!