To what extent is the idea of having different glasses for different wines a case of emperor’s new clothes?
At the end of the day, your appreciation of wine is not just about taste. Your sense of sight, smell and even sound are an enormous part of it. Wine is sensual, and when you’re drinking a nice full-bodied burgundy out of a beautiful hand-blown wine glass with a long, fine stem, a large bowl and a wafer-thin rim, the glass is a big part of it. It is, at the most basic level, nice to use nice glasses; but there is also a lot of truth to the idea that the shape of the glass can affect the taste of the wine.
In what way?
Try it for yourself: drink a pinot noir from a 1970s Italian goblet with a short stem and a thick rim—the sort you’d get at a business function. Then try it again in a tall, hand-blown Riedel, designed especially for pinot noir. Pinot noir is a sensual and hedonistic grape, perfumed and aromatic, and the big bowl of this glass makes for a huge surface area from which the heady aromas can evaporate and rise up your nose when you swill the wine. The top of the glass is wide enough to allow you to stick your nose in, and because the glass is bigger generally, there is more time between lifting your glass and the wine reaching your mouth so you can smell it for longer: with the short glasses there is a tendency to overfill, so you have less time to experience the wine.
Why is the glass of high quality wine glasses so thin?
Thick rims are clumsy. They don’t really assist in directing wine into your mouth in such a way that will make the most of it. The shape of Bordeaux glasses, for example, is such that the wine goes to the back of your mouth and down the sides of your tongue, where you can really pick up the tannins.
Why does the shape of the glasses vary so much?
Red wine glasses generally tend to have a big bowl to allow a large surface area for the aromas to emerge. White wine and sparkling glasses, meanwhile, have a narrower mouth and bowl, so the wine stays cooler for longer and the flavours and aromas are more focused. That said, whites and sparkling wines are becoming richer and more powerful than they were 20 years ago, so you’ll notice modern glasses are being made with slightly larger bowls than previously, which works better with these wines.
So how many wine glasses do I need?
You could have a different glass for every type of wine, but you have to be practical, especially in London. The number of different wine glasses you have will very much depend on your cupboard space. I work in wine, but at home I only have four types of glasses: we’ve two universal glasses — one white, one red — a pinot noir and a burgundy. You can get very good universal glasses.
Which brand should I go for?
Riedel is very famous and has done a huge amount of work in developing the different styles. The Zalto glasses have less range than the Riedel, but they are a joy to use. They are so thin they weigh almost nothing, and unlike the Riedel—which are blown and then the stems are attached separately—are mouth-blown all from one piece. They are more expensive, but they are stronger — and beautiful. We can talk a lot about taste and smell, but a lot of this is about aesthetics. A beautiful glass in a beautiful setting just completes the experience of a beautiful wine.