Staying home and dipping into the cellar more than usual? Your burgundies, vintage champagne, whisky, or even beer will have much more to give just by drinking them out of the right glassware.
The importance of the right wine glass
If wine geeks got their way, there would be a different wine glass for every possible grape and wine style out there. For now, we’d have to contend with only about a dozen for a couple of generalisations. Reds usually get divided by bold (Bordeaux glasses), light and floral (Burgundy glasses), and spicy (a “typical” glass used for spice-forward varieties like syrah or zinfandel); while white wines are typically split into two categories: full and light bodied. Then there are glasses for fortified wines, sweet wines, and sparklings. In between all that, there are even more specialised glassware available — like Riedel differentiating glasses for Gruner Veltliner and Riesling.
Have no wish to faff about with an entire cabinet full of stemware? Universal glasses split the difference, usually offering a larger bowl that tapers towards the opening, making it suitable for most wines. If you’re looking for the ideal glass for a particular bottle of wine, it’s easy enough to get an answer online. What is important to understand though, is how these glasses achieve that. Here’s what to look out for:
Thickness of glass
As a general rule of thumb, the thicker a glass is, the more material there is to get in the way when you’re drinking, which distracts from the actual wine itself. Plus, thinness that’s relatively durable requires quality and workmanship — two signs of luxury.
Bowl shape and size
A larger bowl allows for bolder, more complex wines to express a wider range of aromas — not unlike how a gas chromatograph is more differentiated when spread over a larger area. A larger surface area exposed to air allows for more evaporation, releasing more aromatic compounds and ethanol. Generally, you’d also want something that tapers towards the rim to trap and concentrate aromas, and it’s for this reason that straight champagne flutes usually receive some amount of disdain in the wine world.
The size of the mouth of the glass
This has to do with the flow of wine entering your mouth. A larger rim spreads the wine over a larger surface of your tongue, increasing mouthfeel and the perception of acidity; while a narrower opening directs the liquid to the tip of your tongue, decreasing perception of acidity and directing your attention to fruitier notes.
(Related: The Peak Expert: Glassware)
Wine glass brands to know:
Spirits and cocktails
For the longest time, glasses to drink spirits out of — like the tumbler or shot glass — did little to enhance the drinking experience. One of the first was the Riedel Single Malt Whisky, a glass that was made to “emphasize the elegant creaminess of top quality single malt whisky”, created in conjunction with a panel of scotch experts in 1992. Then there’s the iconic Glencairn, which is made to hold and concentrate aromas, and was first produced in 2001. These glasses, however, aren’t just made to hold scotch — single malt or not. Any spirit that could benefit from a better nosing experience will work. Rum is particularly well suited, so are aged tequila or mezcal, and probably even a craft vodka with actual flavours to savour.
Some other glassware companies to check out:
While they’re usually also designed to improve perception of aroma, quality beer glasses work a little differently from wine and spirits. For one, they need to be a little tougher, with thicker stems to accommodate the much larger volume of liquid you’re going to be drinking. Another important feature of beer glasses is the ability to retain a head — which, besides making a cold pint look delicious, allegedly helps trap the fizz in your beer, slow down oxidation, and disperse aromas. Just like with wine, different glass shapes accentuate the profiles of different styles of beer – from juicy IPAs to rich, toasty stouts.