Wine & Glassware: Does It Matter What You Drink From?

 Some people claim that different glass shapes impact the wine you drink. Does it really matter? Can the wine glass really impact the quality of what’s in your glass?

An Industry is Born

Back in 1958, the Austrian Glassmaker Claus Joseph Riedel added a new “Burgundy Grand Cru” wine glass to his line, claiming that its gently flared lip was perfectly designed to enhance the flavor profile of Burgundian reds. He was a person who took subtle notice of what enhanced his drinking experiences, claiming that the “taste, bouquet, balance, and finish of a wine [could be] affected by the shape of a glass.” From there, an industry was born. It is now widely accepted by high-end glassmakers that almost every luxury wine glass brand has its own specialized glassware. And what a luxury it is.

The Experience of Drinking Wine

Many wineophiles out there and many high-end restaurants and tasting rooms have a large selection of glassware that they pour out of. When you’re looking to truly make drinking wine an experience, there’s nothing greater than a beautifully crafted glass with a perfectly shaped bowl and thin glass that leads the wine to the perfect place on your tongue.

The Science of Wine Glass Types

But beyond the “feel” and the experience, there does exist science. Most wine glass marketing materials will lead you to some loosely described explanation that the glass “directs the wine to the tip of the tongue, highlighting the fruit and balancing the naturally high acidity.” (As described in Riedel’s Burgundy Grand Cru Glass). However, these explanations are based on a now outdated (and originally misunderstood) “tongue map” science that claims that certain areas of the tongue experience different tastes. We now hold this not to be true.

Instead, however, the science for these different glass types comes from the importance of smell when you are eating or drinking. The various wine glasses designed to enhance your wine experience do so by enhancing the aromas. Bulbous wine bellies and narrow rims funnel aromas and highlight smells… and 80% of what we “taste” is actually, in fact, smell.

Through various studies at UC Davis and around the world, scientists have found that the shape of the glass does affect people’s ability to smell and identify different aromas. The change is small but ever-present. According to Maximilian Riedel (Claus Joseph’s grandson), “The impact of empirically small changes to glassware’s shape or size can be dramatic to the wine drinker’s senses. Our goal is to be as precise as possible in varietal specificity.” The thinness of the glass is for luxury but also keeps you from feeling anything but the pleasure of the wine in your mouth.

Choosing the Right Glass

If you are just beginning to get into wine and asking yourself these questions, there are many luxury wine glasses that offer “universal” glasses or glassware designed specifically for all red or white varietals. This is the best bang for your buck — especially in brands such as Riedel, which are sold far and wide, including at stores such as Target. Beyond that, for the more advanced oenophile, you don’t necessarily need a glass for every wine varietal out there… but think about what your favorite is; what do you drink time and time again? It is well worth your time to invest in at least one specialty glass. If you do, try your favorite wine side-by-side, in the specialty glass and in whatever you usually drink out of. At the very least, you’re sure to find that the luxury of it all is enough to put a smile on your face.

The best glass roundup:

You can also check out All Wine with Paige’s favorite wine glasses.