The wine glass: more than just an accessory

  • Thursday 01 November 2007
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Text: Chandra Kurt Photos: Gian Vaitl

Chandra's Cooking with Wine

Like the wine itself, glasses have a distinct influence on taste. The perfect glass will not improve a bad wine, but it could give you the optical illusion of drinking a better one. On the other hand, any glass will perfectly highlight the qualities of a good wine.  

When I am served wine in an unsuitable glass, sometimes I don't say anything, if I'm in certain restaurants and when I'm abroad. But at home, I have other standards. I own half a dozen wine glasses of different shapes, without going to the other extreme of owning a different glass for every type of wine. I try to understand what effect the glass has on the wine, tasting the same vintage in several different vessels. From this experiment I conclude that the same wine can taste completely different in a tulip glass than a cylindrical one. For example, Pinot Noir needs air and space to come into its own; serving it in a long glass would be like putting it in a straitjacket! It would be just as criminal to serve an old Cabernet Sauvignon in a tulip-shaped Burgundy glass. Although a glass can round off the sharp edges of certain vintages, it can also highlight their weaknesses. 

Selecting a universal glass 

So which glass should be used for which wine? We recommend you start by choosing a universal tulip glass, a standard model available in all department stores. You can drink all kinds of wine in it: red, white, but also sparkling and sweet wines. If you want to collect a selection of fine glasses, do take a look at what's available from the Riedel ( and Spiegelau brands. The Riedel website is particularly well designed: if you enter the name of a grape variety, it will suggest different types of glass that will do the job. And don't forget your favourite wine merchant should also be able to give you information about the best glasses to use. They may even have some for sale! 

Five glasses for enlightened amateurs

Glasses are undoubtedly an important partner for any wine; your choice should not spoil the pleasure of tasting. In fact, it's not long before we realise that four or five different types of glass are enough, even for those in the know. Maybe a tulip Burgundy glass for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Nebbiolo (Barolo), a Bordeaux glass that would also do the job for strong Tuscany vintages, spicy Spanish wine and even Prosecco, a slender tulip glass for Champagne and a flute for unpretentious sparkling wines. It's also worth mentioning that champagne glasses are used for sweeter sparkling wines.

Now a few words on the price of glasses. As with wine, the range is extremely wide. That doesn't mean that wine will necessarily be better in expensive glasses. It is the shape of the vessel that really makes a difference, rather than the price. 

  • A wine glass should be colourless and undecorated, so that you can pick up the slightest nuances of the wine's colour and brightness. 

  • A long stem prevents your hands from warming the wine but of course there are limits!

  • A wine glass should be easy to hold and should not look like a champagne glass. 

  • A wine glass should never be filled to the brim. Two or three fingers of wine are enough.

  • If you go for a universal glass, you don't need to change it for each wine as long as you respect the following five principles: serve light wines before full-bodied wines, white before red, dry before sweet, simple wines before complex ones and young ones before old.