Yes, There Is a Right Way to Hold a Wine Glass
You might not think how you hold your glass matters, but properly holding a wine glass is a key part of enjoying wine—not to mention a crucial component of basic table manners. It's not about being snobbish, rather there are practical reasons to hold a wine glass the correct way. And that wine drinkers don't do this is the number one peeve for me, as well as other wine professionals and sommeliers I know.
For the record, a glass of wine should always be held at the stem, near the base between your thumb and fingertips. Trust, there are many reasons holding your glass this way will benefit you as you enjoy your wine—here, I'll break it down for you.
Keeping the Temperature Steady
The main reason to hold your glass by the stem near the base of the glass is to keep your hands away from the wine. This prevents your body heat from altering the temperature of the liquid in your glass!
A typical adult body temperature ranges from 97 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit, and when you clasp your hand around the bowl of a wine glass, the wine inside it will warm rapidly to match your body temperature. Most wines should be served significantly cooler than 99 degrees: sparkling wine from 41-45 degrees, whites from 45-49 degrees, light reds from 54-60 degrees, and full reds from 58-65 degrees.
When wine gets too warm, its alcohol is emphasized, throwing it out of balance and making it taste too boozy (or 'hot,' in wine terms). It can also leave the wine's flavor and texture tasting flabby, syrupy, and lackluster. Wine will shine its brightest, tasting most crisp and lively, when it's appropriately chilled—and to keep the wine at that perfect temperature, you should be holding the glass by the stem and never by the bowl or the rim of the glass.
All the Better to Swirl
One of the best ways to enhance a wine's flavors is to swirl the wine, allowing oxygen to permeate the liquid and activate the wine's aromatic compounds. Since 80 percent of what we experience as flavor is actually aroma, swirling the wine in your glass amplifies the perception of scent and shows off the full range of flavor nuances. Holding the wine by the stem when you swirl gives you much more control. Even the most subtle twist of the wrist can unleash a beautiful swirl when holding the glass by the stem. If you try to swirl the glass while holding it by the bowl, there's much more risk of wine splashing out.
A Neat, Elegant Appearance
Great pains have been taken to polish each wine glass to a crystal sheen in an elegant dinner setting. When you pick a glass up by the bowl, you risk getting unsightly fingerprints all over it. Especially if you've been enjoying finger foods, and your fingers may be a bit greasy, this is not a good look. Proper table manners dictate holding the glass by the stem. Following etiquette rules like this is considered a sign of respect to your hosts.
Practice Makes Perfect
If you are used to holding your wine glass by the bowl and not the stem, you aren't alone. Those of us who are wine professionals observe many wine drinkers holding their glasses improperly every single day. Even Hollywood's elite can be spotted on television and film clutching their wine glasses by the top (once you start noticing this, you can't un-see it!).
In a recent interview, The Gilded Age Director Salli Richardson-Whitfield discussed how filming opulent dinner scenes would be incredibly challenging because of this. "When we talk about etiquette, I think we shot this one dinner scene over and over and over, just because people would pick up their glass the wrong way…. [a take would be] perfect– then, 'Nope! So and so picked up their glass by the top, you've got to pick it up by the stem'. And, you'd have to re-do the whole thing."
It can be a hard habit to break but, like anything else, practice really does help. The next time you enjoy a glass of wine, pay attention to holding it by the stem and get used to the feeling. The more you practice, the more it will be second nature!