Why the Wine Glass Matters

If you enjoy wine, does the glass from which you drink it really matter? We ask the experts — in making, tasting and serving — to suggest their favourite wine glass shapes and why

Red or white, sparkling or sweet. If you enjoy wine, does the glass from which you drink it really matter? Yes – and no. It’s all a matter of personal taste – esthetic and sensory. “The size and shape affect our perception of aroma and taste,” says Ingo Grady of Mission Hill Family Estate in the Okanagan Valley, B.C. “The more you care about that sort of thing, the more discerning you should be about the [glass].”

So why is a white wine glass best for white wine? “It’s all about the fruit, acidity, mineral components, tannin and alcohol in the wine and where the wine falls on your palate when it goes into your mouth,” says Cindy Wilkes, director of corporate, trade and retail sales at The Wine Establishment Limited in Toronto. “So, when you say a white wine glass, that does not necessarily mean one glass.”

For instance, a big buttery Chardonnay would do well in a [rounder, balloon-like] glass, such as a Riedel Montrachet glass.

“Essentially, the right-shaped vessel will act as a guide for the wine’s path,” she says. “It allows the sweetness to fall onto the front of your tongue, which is where you will taste sweetness. If you use a [narrower, taller] glass, you will miss the sweetness of the wine and get a closed acidic taste. The wine will fall further back on the tongue on the first sip, then flow to the sides of your tongue and you will only taste acid and not the sweet fruit.” A narrower glass is better for moderately acidic Chardonnay, adds Wilkes, as it directs the wine to the centre of the tongue, creating perfect harmony.

The same applies for red wine.

“The balloon-shaped, or burgundy, glass curves in at the top to cut acid, thus guiding the wine to the tip of your tongue to taste the fruit and balance the natural high acidity,” says Wilkes. “A [larger] Cabernet-Bordeaux glass does the opposite, as the tannins are big and the fruit is less – guiding the wine to the centre and sides to balance out the fruit, tannin and acid. The breathing space is also important. Red wines require large glasses, white wines medium-sized glasses and spirits small ones to emphasize the fruit character and not the alcohol.”

So, can you serve a Bordeaux in a Beaujolais glass?

“You can,” says John P. Nadeau of Niagara’s Creekside Winery Group, “but it would be like watching Lawrence of Arabia on a 20-inch TV set.”

Expert Picks

1 Ingo Grady, director of wine education, Mission Hill Family Estate: “From a functional point of view, I favour the simple [all-purpose] Riedel Ouverture glasses. They are ideal for entertaining, fit in the dishwasher and don’t require a second mortgage when one breaks. Our flagship red, Oculus, tastes even better when served from a Bordeaux Grand Cru Riedel Sommeliers glass.”

2 Andrea Hopson, vice-president, Tiffany & Co. Canada: “My favourite stem is the white wine; I like its shape and the balance of the glass, and I do tend to drink white wine – Pinot Grigio or Sancerre.”

3 Johanne Sardi, director of Giftware, Birks & Mayors: “It’s the [mouth-blown] red wine glass because I feel warm every time I take a sip from it.”

4 John P. Nadeau, vice-president, Creekside Winery Group, Niagara Peninsula, Ont.: “The large Cabernet glass, as it suits the greatest number of wines I like
to drink.”


Wine glass sales can indicate which wines we’re sipping most. According to Maha Kodsy, buyer, the Bay Tabletop, here are the glasses we’re buying: deep red wine (Bordeaux, Cabernet): 35% light red wine (burgundy – the more “rounded” shape): 20% white wine (Chardonnay): 25% Champagne: 10% specialty (port, sherry): 10%