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Why Are There So Many Styles of Glasses Out There?

Remember that scene in Pretty Woman in which poor Julia Roberts is trying to make sense of the 17 forks in her table setting? Yes – we all chuckled. But mostly because we feel that way too. And frankly, the same goes for wine glasses! Stems, stemless, tall, short, wide brimmed, narrow brimmed – what gives? And how do you know which to serve when? Here’s a quick guide to help bring some sense to this nonsense!!

Regular glass versus crystal (versus plastic)
Let’s begin with the simple fact. Plastic wine glasses are a must at picnics and barbecues. When they’ll be disposed of. They are convenience and stress-free. But what should you be serving at an indoor function, please please go crystal or glass. But which?

Generally speaking, the finer the crystal the thinner the glass. This makes the glass more elegant to hold and behold, but it also drives up the price. Crystal enhances your ability to experience your wine visually (look at those legs!!), but glass is easier to maintain, clean, not break, etc. And *some* believe the thinner the glass the better the flavor. Either way – practicality of budget and maintenance should rule… but wine really does taste better in the prettiest glass you can manage!

Stem versus stemless
The stemless variety, like the plain glass, wins in the battle of practicality. They are less delicate and easier to maintain. They also embody an essence of modernity. However, they do also have an impact on the wine itself. If you’ve ever watched a *true* wine enthusiast take a swig, you’ll note that s/he never ever touches the bowl of the glass. S/he will only hold the glass by the stem. This is because holding the bowl of the glass actually causes the wine to warm more quickly (thanks to your internal temp of 98.6). So the net net: will the warmth of your body destroy your wine drinking experience? Absolutely not. Stemless glasses will get the job done. But glasses with stems are the way to go when you’re trying to impress your wine club.

Size and shape of the bowl
In general, the bowl of the glass (i.e., the part in which the wine gloriously sits) will always be wider at the bottom than the top, which helps to grab those amazing fragrances, delivering them most efficiently to your taster and sniffer. So where do they differ?
  • Red wine glasses: The surface area of the bowl is typically larger to allow the wine to “breathe” more. Which is really just fancy speak for getting more air in there. By inviting the air to dance with your wine, the aromas will open up and mellow the flavor out, enhancing its characteristics (as in, it’s a good thing).
  • White wine glasses: By comparison, the bowl is smaller as white wine is typically intended to be served at a lower temperature (i.e., chilled) than its red counterparts. That said, the smaller the surface area, the smaller the volume of wine being exposed to the air. In sum, smaller bowl allows the white to retain its cooler temperature for longer.
  • Champagne glasses: Think of these like white wine glasses to the extreme. Champagne is also typically served chilled… and on top of that, it has bubbles! So keeping the surface area as small as possible allows the champagne to maximize its retention of both cool temp *and* bubbles longer.