Does the shape of the glass impact your enjoyment of wine? What's the best temperature to serve red and white wine and should it be decanted ahead of time?
I'll provide some guidance for these questions and more as well as provide some shopping suggestions for wine glasses and decanters.
A Brief History of Wine Glasses
Wine glasses have been used since ancient times.
Pliny (2379 A.D.) wrote about gold and silver drinking vessels being abandoned in favor of glass which were frequently priced as high as the precious metal versions. Bonifacio Veroneses sixteenth-century Last Supper includes modern style wine glasses with a stem and foot.
The oldest surviving European wine glasses with a stem and foot are fifteenth-century enameled goblets (a goblet is a glass holding more than four ounces of liquid).
Near the end of the sixteenth-century in Germany sophisticated engraved decoration was applied to covered wine glasses.
The earliest surviving English wine glasses are diamond-engraved glasses that were produced near the end of the sixteenth-century by Verzelini. Plain straight stems gained popularity around 1740, with air twist stems being introduced about the same time. Ten years later a twist incised on the exterior of the stem became popular.
Quality crystal wine glasses were being produced in France near the end of the eighteenth-century.
Cordial glasses in the eighteenth-century had bowls of the same shapes that were typical for wine glasses, but they were much smaller, holding about one ounce.
Toast masters glasses were made with a thicker bottom and walls so that they would hold less. A toast master had to drain every glass and still be able to remain standing till all toasts were completed.
Wine glasses during the nineteenth-century were often produced in sets—with a dozen each of port and sherry, burgundy and claret, champagne glasses and liqueur glasses.
More recently, in the 1950s, Riedel Crystal and other stemware manufacturers have refined wine glass design to the point of having a unique size and shape for almost every wine variation.
Other uses for wine glasses
Wine glasses are made for drinking wine, of course, but people are creative and have found other uses ranging from combining several wine glasses to construct a glass harp to using stemware in a similar manner to provide sound education.
Some of the research for this article on the history of wine glasses came from the following books which I recommend reading if you'd like to learn more:
Glass and Glassware, by George Savage © 1973 Octopus Books Limited
In Celebration of Wine and Life, by Richard Lamb & Ernest G. Mittelberger 1974
Discovering Wine, by Joanna Simon © 1994 Mitchell Beazley Publishers
Serving Wine & Choosing Wine Glasses
The taste of wine is impacted by influences outside the bottle itself including such things as background music, so it makes sense that it woud be affected by the vessel used for consumption.
Riedel Crystal Stemware
The Riedel family history of producing some of the world's greatest crystal stemware stretches back over 240 years.
In the 1950's Riedel revolutionized the glassmaking industry when Claus Josef Riedel discovered that the shape and size of a wine glass can actually impact taste.
He found that the shape and volume of a glass, the diameter of its rim, its finish, and the thickness of the crystal combine to determine how aroma strikes the nose and where the wine touches the toung's taste zones.
Riedel stemware has been heralded as some of the finest wine glasses available in the world today. They are designed to deliver the typical components of a particular grape variety, highlight the balance of flavors, maximize the fruit and integrate acidity or tannins into the overall pleasure of each wine.
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The shape, size and color of a wine glass can dramatically affect your perception of the wine that's contained in it.
Choosing wine glasses, also known as stemware, to reflect both the best of the wine and your own personal taste is both fun and easy with a little knowledge.
There is no “proper” way to serve wine. There are no “official” sizes, capacities, shapes or colors of wine glasses. Common sense and individual taste should be your guide.
Wine’s appeal is not just its taste and smell, but also the visual aspect. The play of light on the wine, the “legs” and “tears” on the inner wall when you swirl the wine and the way aromas are captured within the wine glass—and presented to your nose while drinking—are things to consider when choosing wine glasses.
It stands to reason that a larger glass is required for wine at dinner than would be needed for a sip of sherry after. Traditionally wine glasses with larger, broader bowls are used for bold red wines with bigger bouquets, and narrower wine glasses are used to concentrate the more delicate aromas of lighter white wines.
Champagne is best served in a tall slender tulip glass. Visual enjoyment of the bubbles that differentiate a sparkling wine from a still wine is enhanced by the height. The once popular shorter version of the Champagne glass—whose design was reputed to be based on an particular aspect of Marie Antoinette's anatomy—is too likely to spill and doesn't present the rising bubbles to best advantage or prolong the chill like a tall wine glass will.
If your budget, available cabinet space or desire for simplicity limit your wine glass or stemware collection to a single size, a number of producers have made all purpose designs. Many all-purpose wine glass designs are attractive and relatively inexpensive.
You may want to pick a design similar to what the California Wine Institute developed as an all-purpose wine glass. It is five and one half inches tall with a one and three quarter inch stem. Its clear, tulip-shaped bowl has a capacity of eight ounces.
There is also an International Standards Organization (ISO) wine glass, but—like many of the wine glasses you might collect as souvenirs when tasting at wineries—it may be a better size for tasting wine but a little small for drinking wine.
An elegant dinner party, where a different wine accompanies each course, is enhanced with a table setting that includes a wine glass for each wine. The glasses should be arranged in the order they are to be used and right to left. Wine is traditionally poured from the right, while food is served from the left.
The food being served will dictate the choice of wine, but you will most likely begin with tall-stemmed hock glasses for whites and progress to wine goblets for reds then use a smaller glass for aperitifs. A matching water glass is an elegant touch. Read my article and many guest articles on food and wine pairing for suggestions on choosing the appropriate wine for a particular dish.
Be sure not to fill a wine glass too full, one third to one half full at the most. You want to leave room to capture the bouquet in the upper bowl as it rises from the swirled wine, and to allow the glass to be tilted—at approximately a forty-five degree angle—to evaluate and enjoy the color of the wine.
The wine glass stem gives you something to hold onto without warming the wine with your body heat. If the wine happens to be served too cold, cupping the bowl in your hand is an easy way to quickly warm it up. Brandy snifters are designed specifically for this technique so that the gentle warming of your hand can coax out even more of the aroma that is nearly equal in importance to taste in the enjoyment of brandy.
Ideal Serving Temperatures for Wine
On the subject of temperature—you may have heard that red wine should be served at room temperature and that white wine should be slightly chilled before serving. These recommendations originated at a time when “room temperature” was lower than is typical today.
Full-bodied and tannic red wines are best enjoyed at not more than 64°F (18°C) and clarets, Pinot Noirs (including burgundies), and then the modern reds—soft, light, fruity and relatively tannin-free for drinking young, at progressively cooler temperatures—down to about 54°F (12°C).
White wines are ideally served between 43°F (6°C) to 52°F (11°C). Red wine or white wine, err on the cool side as they will warm quickly on the table and in the glass.
Decanting Wine & Wine Decanters
Should you decant—move the wine to a serving container?
Wines deposit sediment as a natural part of aging, some more than others. Decanting the wine can help to separate the clear wine from the sediment. Decanting the wine also introduces air into the wine—letting the wine breathe—releasing the aromas and enhancing flavors, particularly useful for red wines that are a little harsh.
Decanting old wines, just prior to serving, helps to ensure that the wines’ clarity and brilliance are not obscured by any deposit that may have developed over time (pour slowly and avoid decanting the last ounce).
Decant young wines as much as several hours before they are served to give the wine a chance to breath, simulating a stage of development that might normally be acquired after years of aging (pour quickly, even up-ending the bottle—the idea is to expose the wine to air).
Wine decanter design varies from the purely function to extravagantly decorated, but sometimes unusual design and functionality can go hand-in-hand as in the Orbital Decanter that, when removed from its base, will sit elegantly on your table while a gentle orbital movement increases the breathing of your wine with minimal disturbance.
Some experts prefer to let wine breath in the wine glass but I personally find it hard to wait patiently once it's been poured.
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If you have a need for attractive yet affordable wine glasses or any kind of glassware — for your business, a large party, wedding, bar/bat mitzvah or other occasion or just for everyday use — one of the best places to by your glassware is through a restaurant supply house:
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