Your Ultimate Guide to Red and White Wine Glasses, Including What You Need to Know Before Buying a New Set
Wine glasses come in many shapes and sizes. In addition to wine glasses by varietal—you'll find that there are options created specifically to highlight the flavors of red, white, and sparkling wines—there's also variation in design; do you want stemless wine glasses? Do you prefer champagne coupes over flutes? Figuring out which glasses best suit your needs can often feel overwhelming. To help you find your stemware match, we asked experts to explain the key difference between red versus white wine glasses, and what you should reach for when opening a great bottle of rosé, too.
The Importance of Using the Right Glass
Stephanie Summerson Hall, founder of Estelle Colored Glass, says that choosing the right vessel can make all the difference in your drinking experience. "The proper glass preserves the floral aromas while helping to maintain a cooler temperature," says Summerson Hall. "Anyone who has visited a vineyard or considers themselves wine connoisseurs would tell you that wine is a science, and one of the most critical parts of the wine experience is the type of glass you use. Wine glasses are created based on unique characteristics such as alcohol level, acidity, fruit expression, and tannin. The different shapes contribute to how intense [or] mellow the wine comes across. Traditional reds like Cabernet Sauvignon require a larger bowl to allow more oxygen to flow."
"The minute a bottle of wine is open, you have introduced oxygen and that starts to change the wine," explains Elizabeth Schneider, certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, podcast host, and author of Wine for Normal People ($18.69, amazon.com). "When you have strong tannins, especially, the wine needs the action of swirling to activate the esters and the aldehydes, [or the], smell compounds. That's going to make the wine smell better, it's going to smooth those tannins out (yes, there are chemical changes going on in your wine as the oxygen hits those tannins) and it can sort of integrate the entire liquid." Schneider says for reds, this is crucial. But for whites, aerating is also important. "Again, the goal is to sort of bring the wine's components together after it's been 'trapped' in a bottle for a few months or a few years. Loosening up the aromatics and the structural components like tannin, acid, and alcohol can make the wine way better."
Red Versus White Wine Glasses
Let's look at white wine glasses first. The standard white wine glass is shaped like a narrow tulip that tapers at the top, says Schneider. "It is designed to be a little wider in the bowl (the part that meets the stem) and then narrow gently at the top. The reason? We are looking for enough room to swirl the wine and aerate it and then it narrows to concentrate aromas when they hit your nose." Schneider emphasizes the importance of a white wine glass having a stem. "The temperature of the wine is affected by your hands cupping the glass and conducting heat from you to the wine. Stemless, especially for white can warm the wine more quickly and serving temperature is a huge (and really underestimated) factor in your experience of wine." Summerson Hall agrees, adding that white wines are best served in smaller, "'bowled glasses,' simply because they don't need as much room to breathe as their red counterpart."
Meanwhile, red wines normally need a bit more air than white wines, calling for a bigger bowl. "So for red wine glasses you're really looking for a large bowl that can hold about five to eight ounces of wine but still leave plenty of space for swirling and letting oxygen contact the wine," says Joe Radosevich chief technology officer of Üllo. "This size and shape can get exaggerated with some glasses but so long as you can give your wine a little swirl without a spill, you'll be fine."
What to Look for in Each Type of Glass
Schneider says that when it comes to white wine glasses, you should always look for the thinnest glass you feel comfortable handling. "Thin glass with a thin rim (where it meets your mouth) makes your experience of the wine about the liquid and not about the glass. The glass should aid in amplifying aromas, allowing the wine to aerate and then get out of the way!" she says. "A big, thick glass goblet (like the ones you find at a vacation rental) is so distracting for the wine experience. You notice the giant lip of the glass, not the wine, and that's no good."
As for reds, there are two common glass designs, and each one is for a specific type of red wine. First, the Burgundy glass. This has a big fat bowl and then tapers at the top, explains Schneider. "It's like an upside-down mushroom. This is designed with a bigger bowl for swirling and then a taper at the top to concentrate aromas." The main difference with a Burgundy glass is the size of the bowl. Due to its tannins, reds often need more oxygen to soften and taste great, she says. After being stuck in a bottle for several years, that oxygen will mellow out the wine. "These glasses should be used for Chardonnays, Viogniers, and white Rhône wine blends, too—they often need more air than standard whites...but not at the cost of their aromatics." Second, there's the Bordeaux glass, which Schneider describes as the big brother of the white wine glass, but a bit wider at the top. "It has a large bowl and is pretty tall," she says. "If you are a lover of Bordeaux or the individual components of Bordeaux...this is the glass for you. It will do the job of aerating the wine and softening the tannins better than the Burgundy glass."
If you're more of a rosé drinker, the answer to what type of glass to use is a little less straightforward. "This depends on what type of rosé you have," says Summerson Hall. "A glass with a flared lip and long stem usually suits a young rose, while a shorter bowl-shaped glass may give you more of the flavor payoff you are looking for in an older wine."