Toast Of The Town: Swirl About With NewsWhistle’s Stemware Guide

So many glasses…

Wine glasses, a.k.a. stemware (for the stems upon which the wine bowl – glass – sits) are an essential part of enjoying wine.  Essentially, you want enough space in the bowl to be able to swirl the wine.  Swirling allows oxygen to get into your wine, aerating the wine and releasing vapors that evaporate from the sides of the glass, “opening it up.”  The wine will also coat the sides of the glass, which provides more aromatics.  And since 80% of tasting is smelling, the action of swirling releases the bouquet and enables you to not only appear sophisticated but to be able to actually better taste the wine in your glass.

Truthfully, you could drink wine out of a coffee mug or a jar and it won’t be ruined; but here are the glasses that are meant to match with certain grapes/wines and the reasons why:

Red wines have a tannic structure and tend to be heavier and denser than white wines glasses.  Thus, red wine glasses tend to be larger and rounder, providing a larger surface area that increases the rate of oxidation so that the wine comes into contact with more air.


Bordeaux glasses (right) are broad and tall.  The width promotes oxidation, the length curbs alcohol fumes, and the overall shape directs the wine to the back of the mouth.  Best served are wines that have a base or blend of: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, or any other heavy red wine.

A Burgundy glass (left) is broader in the middle, which enables ample aeration to accumulate the aromatics of more delicate red wines.  The more extreme contour and taper at the top concentrates the bouquet, and the overall style directs the wine to the tip of the tongue.  Best served from here are red wines that are more delicate: Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Gamay, Baga.


White wine glasses vary enormously, depending upon the wine and the desire to accentuate different characteristics.  Generally, for a Chardonnay based wine, it is standard to serve in a Burgundy glass.  However, standard white wine glasses have a smaller mouth and surface area to reduce the rate of oxidation and preserve the crisp, clean flavors and cool temperature.

A standard white glass that is straighter and taller will direct the wine to the back and sides of the tongue.  A Riesling can be served in this glass but is also many times served in a tulip or Riesling glass, which is slightly broader in the middle to capture the aromatics, then tapers in and has a slightly larger opening that directs the wine to the tip and sides of the tongue to taste its sweetness.


Champagne glasses are a bit more controversial, as there are several styles from the infamous “Marie Antoinette” glass, to goblets, to the standard Champagne glass to white wine glasses.

A standard Champagne glass is narrow, tall, and designed to retain the signature carbonation and capture the flavor in the beverage, which is achieved by tapering the rim and reducing the surface area.  This said, most vignerons in Champagne and serious Champagne drinkers prefer a white wine glass because they make it possible to capture the bouquet, which is vital.  A possible solution to the problem of retaining the mousse: pour smaller and drink quicker.

With regards to buying wine glasses for your home, you don’t need a fancy set of stems, but they can enhance the wine you’re drinking.  However, the glass should also work with your personality and the logistics of your life.  If you don’t like hand-washing and polishing extremely fragile glasses, or if you’re going to be concerned about guests or children breaking glasses, then purchasing them would not be a prudent decision.   There are a lot of options out there: Riedel, Schott Zweisel, Spiegelau…  Buy a set you love and a set for parties.  I have Zalto’s (very delicate, fancy, bouquet-loving stems) that I don’t pull them out for parties, but rather use the stemless Riedels that a.) do a solid job with bouquet, b.) are dishwasher friendly, and c.) won’t make me cry if they break.


As a career sommelier, Kimberley Drake has overseen some of the finest wine programs and operations in America and Asia. Her accomplishments range from working as a sommelier at Jean Georges in NYC to opening Hong Kong’s Café Gray Deluxe as their chef sommelier. She can be reached at


Lead-In Photo Courtesy of  Ljupco Smokovski/