When we enjoy our daily repast at Wine is Life we like to share a bit of wine. Boggles the mind, doesn’t it? One of the geeks in shipping has one of those goatskin things and likes to squirt his wine into his mouth and yell, “Benvenuti!” He’s from Iowa, but the goatskin makes him feel Italian. Our accountant grabs a nip straight from the bottle. Most of us rinse out a coffee mug or grab the nearest plastic cup. But we’re kind of selling ourselves short, especially as “wine experts.” A glass of wine should be explored with all of the senses, and the shape of the glass has a great deal to do with that.
Enjoying wine requires the careful use to one’s tongue, and what a clever piece of bodywork that is! The tongue, (aside from being remarkable for firing watermelon seeds) is the home for up to 10,000 taste buds, each capable of receiving different kinds of tastes. There are taste receptors for salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami (which is a meaty or savory flavor). It was long thought that different areas of the tongue picked up each of these tastes, but the tongue, mouth, and esophagus are covered in different taste buds that all sense these flavors. The “tongue map” was kind of like those brain maps that showed what parts of your scalp made you better at math.
Remember our post about the Price of Wines and the clear beer? The visual stimulation of seeing wine also affects its taste. Who doesn’t salivate at the sight of a glass of good bordeaux? Think about it: if your banana were blue would you eat it? How many of us have children who break out in hives at the sight of something green? Have you ever seen something green and shimmery and expected lime but found celery? A rich, deep color leads one to expect something full and rich, while a clearer color hints at freshness.
And the smell. What does food taste like when you have a cold? It tastes like the box that your decongestant came in.
All of these factors come into play when selecting a wine glass.
All wine glasses share three basic components: a bowl, stem, and foot. The bowl holds the wine, the stem allows you to hold the glass without smudging the bowl or heating the wine with your body temperature, and a sturdy foot keeps your wine in the glass and off of your table. And at the end of the day, there are four basic types of glass: red wine, white wine, sparkling wine, and dessert wine. We enjoy all types of wine as a dessert, but that’s just semantics.
Red wine glasses generally have a large, wide bowl. This allows the wine to “breathe,” or oxidize. Kind of like the head on a beer releases aromatics that enhance the flavor, the process of oxidation enhances the flavor of red wines. Reds are also known for having more “bouquet,” or aroma, and the wideness of the glass allows you to put your nose to work as you sip and savor your wine.
White wine glasses are generally smaller and more tapered than their red wine cousins. While some whites, like chardonnay, benefit from oxidation, the smaller bowls reduces the rate and helps to keep the wine chilled longer.
Sparkling wines and champagnes are served in a “flute,” and that’s no tune we’re whistling. Sparkling wines are characterized by the bubbles; those wonderful things that tickle your nose during the enjoyment of said products. A flute is thin and tapered, and allow the bubbles to become trapped in the glass, extending the life of the wine and providing a great visual appeal.
Dessert wines, like sherry and port, usually have a higher alcohol content than other wines, and as such are served in smaller servings. While taste travels all over the tongue, a dessert wine should head straight for the back of one’s mouth, almost like a shot. That way you get the flavor and aroma of the wine, with a warm, earthy aftertaste.
If you really want to get technical, there are hundreds of glasses for different types of wines, and if you truly set the table to reflect the wines you could end up looking like the set from Game of Thrones. You may decide on some sturdy glassware or you may go all out with some fine crystal. Riedel offers a nice glass that is not only fine crystal, it is actually stemless, which is great news for the clumsy drinker. It fits great in one’s hand.
For all we care you can sip your wine out of a paper cup. The important thing, ultimately, is to bury your nose and get some wine upon your tongue. You may be able to find a nice, middle-of-the-road stem glass that will fit a variety of wines and hands. Just remember – aim for the mouth.