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Wine Glasses

Whether you drink from a flute or a bucket, there is no doubt that the glass you use will change the emotional and sensory pleasure you get from the contents. The three parts of wine tasting seeing, smelling and tasting can all be enhanced by the correct stemware. In response to this there is a huge variety of glasses that are advocated by glass manufacturers

Their are four topics

How do wine glasses effect tastes

Many glass manufacturers, such as Riedel, base their designs on the view that we taste different parts of the wine on different parts of the tongue. They say that acidity is sensed on the sides of the tongue, with bitterness towards the back, although it is now known that we sense acidity and bitterness all over the tongue. The belief is that wines high in acidity should be shot to the back of the throat, avoiding the acidity sensors on the side. Tannic wines should be kept from the back of the tongue where we sense the bitterness in the tannins. For those like me who swish wine around the mouth, coating all areas before swallowing it, would appear silly. The manufacturers’ response is that the brain is lazy and first impressions really do count much more. So hitting or avoiding parts of the tongue is key. Whether you agree or disagree with their views, wines do taste better in the correct glass.

The bowl

The bowl at the bottom and the walls are the most important characteristics for a wine glass.

A good shape for the bowl of the glass, is called the Bordeaux shape, It has a smallish bowl with sides that taper towards the top. The tapered sides and bowl are similar to a closed tulip and stop the wine from spilling out of the glass when swirled. The funneling of wine also concentrate the aroma of the wine. The wine tends to drop onto the centre of the tongue then the sides before hitting the front. Your brain focuses on the first thing it encounters and downplays sugar, whcih tends to hide character. In otherwords the wine feels more vibrant.

The larger bowel is known as the Burgundy bowl and it tends to soften and flatter wines. It is more like a large egg with the top cut off. The larger the bowl, the slower the wine comes, out dropping onto the tip of the toungue where you are most senstive to sweetness. Sweet softens tannins, minerality and acidity, and softens many of the wnes character. So wines with high tannins should have a large bowl. Helpfully tannic wines often improve with breathing and, like a decanter, the larger the bowl the more oxygen can interact with the wine, softening the tannins over time.

The sommelier glass is designed to improve oxgen getting to the wine, they start where the stem meets the bowl at a point and curve up and out, rather than the opposite U shaped bowl. This limits the wine in the bottom and with a bit of swirling will provide more surface area and ehnc more room for oxygen to interact.

The Rim

The rim is the second most important characteristic of the wine glass. From an aesthetic point of view, many believe a cut polished rim with no discernable round on the lip is the best as it allows the wine to gently tip into the mouth. However these glasses do tend to break easily, especially if the glass is thin or hand blown. They certainly make for a more aesthetic glass, but are more expensive to make and so can be expensive to buy versus glasses with a round rolled lip on the top. The smaller the rim the less room that the wine’s aromas have to escape, thereby concentrating and enhancing the aromas for the wine drinker to enjoy. Again strangely enough acidic wines often taste better in glasses with a small opening that tip the wine to the back of the mouth, avoiding the sides.

The stem and base are both aesthetic and functional, but the stem isolates the temperature of your hand from the temperature of the wine. Short stubby stems often mean part of the hand is touching the glass, either warming or cooling the wine or hands. Long stems tend to break easily but can look more elegant.

Which shape of Champagne glass is best?

Champagne glasses have been around for quite a while and over the years there have been quite a few different shapes of glass. But the three key shapes are; the flute, the coupe and the tulip.  The flute is the oldest shape dating back to Roman times, although there wasn’t any fizzy wine around back then. But the oldest shape designed specifically for Champagne is the Champagne coupe. It was invented in 1666 by a Venetian glassmaker for the Duke of Buckingham from his glass factory in Greenwich, England. Many people attribute the shape to resembling Maria Antoinette’s breast , which isn’t correct as she wasn’t around until 100 years later! As it’s an English design and we all like Champagne perhaps it should be attributed to an English Marie Antoinette – and perhaps be called the “Jordan Glass”?  

The coupe lost favour to the flute in the middle of the 20th Century as the Flute tended to keep the wine fizzier for longer. The coupe, exposing a large surface area of wine to air, means the Champagne quickly becomes flat. Aesthetically the flute is also more elegant with the bubbles rising gracefully to the top.  Japanese scientists have shown that as the bubble rises it lingers longer in the fizz. Which means it actually picks up more flavours depositing this above the wine,  giving it a better nose.  Also the feel of the flute with its long length and narrow opening, tends to shoot the wine to the back of the mouth, which minimises the acidity of the wine. Depending on the wine this can be good or bad, but most Champagne is acidic so its generally a good thing.

The last advantage of flutes it they contain the wine better with less spillage, whereas with the coupe design, if your elbows gets knocked your wine is going to spill. With a flute you’re going to lose a lot less fizz!

So which is better the coupe or the flute?  The thing is that most champagne houses or experts will actually go for a normal wine glass. In fact, ISO tasting glasses are quite a good shape for Champagne as they have a reasonably narrow opening which doesn’t allow the Champagne to go too flat. Also the aromas are concentrated at the top so it’s really nice to get your nose in there and give it a bit  swirl and a sniff.  So it’s quite a good glass. But in my book the Champagne flute wins over. Its a gorgeous looking glass but its also practical and keeps the bubbles flowing.