A Brief History of the Wine Glass
Wine glasses have been used since ancient times.
Pliny (23-79 A.D.) wrote about gold and silver drinking vessels being abandoned in favor of glass, and they were frequently priced as high as the precious metal versions. Bonifacio Veronese's sixteenth-century 'Last Supper' includes modern style wine glasses with a stem and foot.
The oldest surviving European wine glasses with a stem and foot are fifteenth-century enameled goblets (a goblet is a glass holding more than four ounces of liquid).
Near the end of the sixteenth-century in Germany sophisticated engraved decoration was applied to covered wine glasses.
The earliest surviving English wine glasses are diamond-engraved glasses that were produced near the end of the sixteenth-century by Verzelini. Plain straight stems gained popularity around 1740, with air twist stems being introduced about the same time. Ten years later a twist incised on the exterior of the stem became popular.
Quality crystal wine glasses were being produced in France near the end of the eighteenth-century.
Cordial glasses in the eighteenth-century had bowls of the same shapes that were typical for wine glasses, but they were much smaller, holding about one ounce.
Toast masters glasses were made with a thicker bottom and walls so that they would hold less. A toast master had to drain every glass and still be able to remain standing till all toasts were completed.
Wine glasses during the nineteenth-century were often produced in sets - with a dozen each of port and sherry, burgundy and claret, champagne glasses and liqueur glasses.
More recently, in the 1950s, Riedel Crystal and other stemware manufacturers have refined wine glass design to the point of having a unique size and shape for almost every wine variation.
Wine glasses are made for drinking wine, of course, but people are creative and have found other uses ranging from combining several wine glasses to construct a glass harp to using stemware in a similar manner to provide sound education.
Choosing Wine Glasses
There really is no right or wrong glass for wine tasting - or for drinking wine for that matter. However, there are some glasses that are better than others for evaluating wines. First of all, we like to suggest using glasses that you are comfortable using. Aesthetics aside, there are really only two things to remember when considering a wine tasting glass: the size of the glass and the overall shape of the glass.
The more universally used tasting glass is called a chimney shape. Broader on the bottom of the bowl, it tapers upward to a smaller opening. The broader bottom will enable you to hold enough wine and give you plenty of room to swirl the wine, while the smaller opening at the top will help to trap and focus the aromas, allowing you enough of a scent to assess the wine.
Size Doesn't Matter
For the most part, if your glass is of this shape, the actual size of the glass is not important other than it needs to be big enough and have a big enough opening for you to be able to get your nose inside to really smell the wine. Some people swear by large "Burgundy" style glasses that allow as much of the wine to come in contact with the air as possible, therefore releasing as many of the aromas and flavors as possible. Others like the convenience and ease of use of a smaller glass. Other considerations that will enhance your tasting experience include glassware that is clear (no colors) and free of cuts or engravings within the glass.
Many glass manufacturers have designed specific glasses for specific wine types or varietals, taking in to account different aspects of the individual wine type. While this is wonderful, it is not a necessary purchase for a complete wine tasting. The top producer of these specialized wine glasses is an Austrian crystal company named Riedel (pronounced REE-dle). They are exquisite and expensive.
Cleaning Wine Glasses
When it comes time to clean your glassware, try to avoid using soap. Instead use hot water and rinse thoroughly. Soap can become trapped within the glass release soapy odors the next time you use it. Although you may become quite proficient at identifying various brands of dish soap, this ability and the soapy glasses that taught you will not add to the enjoyment of a good glass of wine.
To summarize, it's important that you find good glassware for your wine tasting experiences, but "good" does not necessarily mean "expensive." Find glassware that you are comfortable with and adequately serves its purpose: presenting wine for your evaluation and enjoyment.
Tips For Serving Wine
You've probably heard many conflicting and complicated instructions throughout the years on the proper way to get wine from the store to your glass. It doesn't have to be that hard. Here are the basics of serving wine, which are all you really need.
Many customs have accompanied wine drinking through the years. None of them are meant to be intimidating or stuffy. They are just practices intended to enhance the enjoyment of wine.
- "White wine with fish and red wine with meat" is more customary than culinary.
- Red wines are served at room temperature, while white wines, roses, and champagnes are served chilled.
- The stronger the food, the stronger the wine. The lighter the food, the lighter the wine.
- Wine loves air, which revives its sleeping flavors. It is recommended to open the bottle about an hour before consumption and let the wine "breathe". This ages it a year or so, and allows its flavors to mellow.
- A bottle of wine has to be handled carefully, with the minimum movement possible. Remember, wine likes to sleep, only to awaken in your mouth.
- Red wine bottles do not need to be cleaned or dusted before opening. They are opened on a hard surface. White wines, rose, and Champagne bottles are opened in ice buckets.
- Red wines corks are sniffed to make sure the wine has not spoiled, which gives the cork an unpleasant smell. It is not necessary to smell white and rose wine corks since the wine was refrigerated and the cork will not smell.
Ideal Serving Temperatures For Serving Wine
On the subject of temperature - you may have heard that red wine should be served at room temperature and that white wine should be slightly chilled before serving. These recommendations originated at a time when "room temperature" was lower than is typical today.
Full-bodied and tannic red wines are best enjoyed at not more than 64°F (18°C) and clarets, Pinot Noirs (including burgundies), and then the modern reds - soft, light, fruity and relatively tannin-free for drinking young, at progressively cooler temperatures - down to about 54°F (12°C).
White wines are ideally served between 43°F (6°C) to 52°F (11°C). Red wine or white wine, err on the cool side as they will warm quickly on the table and in the glass.
About The Author
Jennifer de Jong is a long time wine drinker, enjoyer of wine, and non-wine-snob. She is the founder of Vino Vixenz. A snob-free zone to learn wine tasting.