Having a different wine glass for every wine variety you drink seems a little excessive, not to mention a barrel of laughs when it's time to clean up. No matter where you stand on the issue, here's the deal on how they work and why you'd consider adding them to your wish list.
THEY ALLOW A WINE TO SHOW OFF
If you drink coke out of three different glasses, it won't make a scrap of difference to the taste. But if you drink wine from the very same bottle out of three different styles of wine glasses, you'd swear you were drinking three different wines.
This is because of the wine itself. Wine is a concoction of potentially wonderful smells and tastes and flavours, but one with reasonable temperament. You see these qualities are harder to notice if they're not encouraged out of their capsule. Like a rock star with an ego, wine will only work to its best form in certain environments. A lot of which has to do with space.
When some wines get this space they put on a show -- a big, sultry, sassy, dancing act that fills the whole stage. The act is so big they need all the space in a glass they can get and use it to show off all of their big bawdy smells and characters -- like a hound on heat. Give some other wines this much space and you can barely see or hear them. They become the timid little dancing girl whose squeak can barely be heard at all within the empty auditorium that is the glass. They need small stages where their gentler and subtler act can be noticed.
Generally, the lighter the wine, the smaller the space they need to fill.
They feel good. Think about things that are nice to hold -- ergonomic veggie peelers, guns, a warm mug of tea, bums and breasts -- they just feel good, even sensual. It's the same with glasses. Wrapping your palm around a bowl of a cabernet glass, fingers spread around the glass like legs stretched across a king size bed, your palm flat to the glass where it's nice and warm is far more pleasing than swishing the same red around a pokey little pop glass. Feeling is all part of the experience.
They make good wine better. It's all about enhancing the wine experience. Investing a load of cash in glasses is certainly not for everyone, but they let those people who do appreciate wine, who wanna go that little extra, do so. Keep in mind, they can only reveal or enhance what is already there and while they may make a good wine better, they won't make a crap wine good. Sorry.
HOW THEY MAKE A DIFFERENCE
1. The rim: Glasses come with a rim that is either cut flat across the top or one that is rolled. A minute thing perhaps, but it actually affects where on your tongue the wine lands, thus affecting the taste. Wine specific glasses know what characteristics are coming up in the wine, where on the tongue it's best tasted and put it there for you. Clever, huh?
2. The bowl: This is the part of the glass where the good smells and vapour collect. You should always pour your wine to the widest point of the bowl which may seem frightfully low in the glass. This just allows enough room for all of the vapours to collect for you to smell and start the wine experience. Remember the smells are sparked up when the oxygen hits the wine, so it's in your best smelling interests to get more oxygen in contact with the wine. For this reason, it's the surface area of the wine that's important, not the depth. This also allows more room for all that ferocious swirling you'll do to agitate the wine.
The size of the bowl depends on which wine you're drinking. White wines, which usually have light, perfumed, gentle puffs of aroma, require smaller glasses. The smaller glass also helps to regulate the temperature of the wine. As white wine is generally served at a lower temperature but in warmer environments, pouring smaller serves means it's drunk faster and there's less of a chance for it to get too warm. Red wine glasses have bigger bowls so the bigger flavours can breathe and fill the space. Also, red wine has more complex aromas and by allowing your nose to actually get into the glass, you expose your senses to more of them.
3. The stem: It's better to have one on your glass than not. It allows you to swirl and agitate the wine to release more of its smells, allowing you to get a better picture of what the wine is about. Also, you can hold the wine without turning up the temperature with the heat from your hand.
4. The opening: The rim or opening of almost all wine glasses narrows from the bowl. This prevents any spillage when you're swirling and it also helps the aroma of the wine to focus -- brings it all together on a smaller platform from which you can smell the wine. Again, the size of this opening depends on what sort of wine you are drinking -- the bigger the opening, the bigger the wine.
5. The glass: Special wine glasses are colourless so you can see variations in the colour of the wine. Better quality glasses are thinner and uncut -- fancy patterns etched out of the glass only distort any visuals within the wine that can otherwise be seen through the glass.
6. Sparkling glasses: The traditional flute style that most sparkling is served in is designed to focus the gentle smells of the original white it's made from at the same time as controlling the flow of bubbles. By allowing too many of the bubbles to escape, the champagne will go flat and lose its spark much faster, hence the narrow glass. This is why those dish cups that are now only reserved for frogs-in-the-pond at kiddies birthday parties are no good. Some glasses even feature an etch at the bottom of the glass that the bubbles start from.