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Shape of Wine Glasses: Red Wine vs. White Wine

March 9, 2023

Shape of Wine Glasses: Red Wine Glass vs. White Wine Glass

What type of wine should I drink right now? Will this pair well? Is there something else I should open instead?

These are all questions you might ask yourself when you’re in Paso Robles drinking wine. But there is something else you should always consider: what type of glass should I drink this wine out of?

Understanding how a wine glass can affect the taste of wine isn’t common knowledge but can be a huge benefit to those trying to maximize the taste of the unique wines they’re drinking. We’re here to share some knowledge on what you should be looking for when selecting which wine glass to use.

Why Are There Different Types of Wine Glasses? 

The investment in stemware is about taking the time to find the perfect pairing for your wine. The right glass will focus on the best of the grape(s) and showcase the expression of the winemaker, while the wrong one will result in closed or hot aromas and muted flavors.

Recent scientific evidence shows how the glass shape directly affects the position of vapors, and subsequently aromatic compounds, up the rim of a glass. A Japanese medical group, using a special camera recorded the varying density and location of ethanol vapors when a glass is swirled, and what they captured was something long believed by the wine community. The glass really does matter.

Whether it’s a longer stem or a wider bowl, each design difference has a purpose, to better display the characteristics of the wine it has been designed for.

Red Wine Glasses VS. White Wine Glasses 

And while it has been debunked that we experience the five taste sensations (salt, sour, sweet, bitter, and umami) on different parts of our tongue, there is no doubting the experience of drinking a higher acid white out of a smaller glass. There is something to be said for the expression of acid when the wine is directed onto the middle of your palate, as opposed to the tip of the tongue.  Taking the aroma, texture, flavor, and finish into consideration what follows is a general rule of thumb on how to pick a wine glass, and why.

Red Wine Glasses 

Typically, with red wine you want your glass to have a larger bowl when compared to a white wine glass. This is because red wines will typically have bolder tasting notes and benefit from being able to “breath more” than their white wine counterparts. The larger bowled glasses allow the red wine to come into contact with more air, helping them to open up and display more aromas and tasting notes. This is the same reason red wine is sometimes poured into a decanter before drinking, helping to combat the more reductive qualities of those wines before serving them.The rims of the red wine glasses will also tend to be more open for this reason, and in some cases can even have a tulip shaping to the rim as well.

Red Wine glasses fall into three main categories: full-bodied (Bordeaux), medium-bodied, and light-bodied (Burgundy).

  • Bordeaux glasses are the largest and allow the greatest distance between your nose and the wine, offering ample room for the ethanol to escape away from your nose. The result is the experience of more aroma compounds and less alcohol. The larger opening also directs the wine onto a wider portion of your palate resulting in a smoother tasting experience. High tannin and high alcohol wines are best served out of this glass; think Cabernet Sauvignon, bolder Zinfandels, Petit Sirah, and wines blended as such.
  • For medium-bodied, slightly less alcoholic wines a smaller or “Red” glass will soften spicy flavors, but allow fewer ethanol vapors to escape. This shape works best with old-world wines that have pronounced earth and meat aromas and flavors while somewhat light on alcohol.
  • The Burgundy glass’ name can be beguiling as it is the perfect accompaniment to many complex lower-alcohol reds and whites. Floral Syrahs and peppery Zinfandels are just as at home in this glass as the classic Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo. Darker, broody wines, with a touch of age on them, can benefit from the aroma-opening effects of the wide bowl as well. And don’t forget your fuller-bodied, rounder whites, and even Champagne.

White Wine Glasses 

Unlike red wine, white wine doesn’t require as much space to breathe. In fact, to help preserve the aromas the white wine glasses will have a more acute bow within the bowl, and a smaller opening at the rim of the glass.The stem length is also more important when dealing with white wine. This is because white wine needs to be served at a cooler temperature, meaning that a source of heat like your own hand can affect the wine you’re tasting. Because of this white wine glasses will have longer stems, which can help keep a wine drinker’s hand farther from the bowl and reduces the chance of warming up the wine they are holding.

White Wine glasses fall into two main categories: high acid, and full-bodied. Both are smaller bowled, to preserve and showcase aromas and maintain temperature consistency (chilled aromas are quieter as the molecules are less active, so being able to bring your nose closer to the wine is key).

  • The smaller the glass the more the wine is directed on the middle of your palate and the more heightened the expression of acid. Higher acid whites tend to be lighter in alcohol so concentrated ethanol vapors are less pronounced. Great wines for these glasses are aromatic whites like Rieslings (dry and off-dry), Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and Albariño, as well as rosé.
  • While the bowl of the slightly larger white glass embraces and enunciates the richer, rounder aspects of full-bodied wines: like, Chardonnays, and Viogniers, while also limiting the effects of higher alcohol on the nose.

Specialty Wine Glasses

Specialty glasses can cover a gamut of wines, and grape distillates: from Port to Grappa to bubbles.

  • Port glasses feature a small bowl and even smaller glass opening, helping to prevent the evaporation of ethanol from these fortified wines (it really all comes down to alcohol!) while concentrating the sweetness onto the tip of your tongue. Pretty much any fortified wine can be drunk out of these, including sherry.
  • Grappa glasses are known for their tell-tale gourd-like shape and their small round bowl which helps regulate temperature while the narrow opening protects your olfactory from the high-octane ethanol vapors, and directs the liquid onto a very precise point at the tip of your tongue. Commonly used to serve liquors and brandies as well.
  • Sparkling wine glasses are as varied as the wines you serve in them. While the world of bubbles continues to be pushed they still, by and large, all share two main traits: bubbles, and acid, and a deep bowl with stepper sides offers a focused point for the formation of bubbles (nucleation) while a narrow mouth concentrates the wine at the start of your palate.  Becoming more popular by the day though is any glass with a wide enough bowl, and wide enough opening to really allow your nose into the glass to inhale all those beautiful aromas.

A wine lover will always benefit from having the right glass at the right time. Remember what to look for between Red Wine Glasses vs. White Wine Glasses. If you are drinking red wine, try and have a glass with a larger bowl that allows the wine to breathe. If you are drinking white wine, find a slimmer glass that best displays the wine’s vibrant aromas, and a long stem to help keep the wine cool while you’re holding it. All this will go a long way in making that next glass of Paso Wine all the better.

Keeping reading to determine: Why Use a Stemless Wine Glass vs. a Stemmed Glass?