You have friends over. They’ve brought bottles of wine. It’s up to you which to choose and into which glasses to pour it. But you have no idea. What makes any wine better than any other? And why are there specific glasses for specific wines? Does it really make any difference? We decided to delve into this world of wine for the answers…
Wines are generally split up into two main camps: reds and whites. There are a few defining aspects of each and a few misconceptions too. We often refer to red as ‘full-bodied’ or even ‘bitter.’ This is mostly because red wines have more tannins than whites. (Tannins come from the skin of the grapes and add flavour but also add bitterness.) This was one of the reasons that for a long time reds were considered more masculine, while whites were feminine. This is also the reason decanters are very popular for red wine drinkers. Letting the tannins breathe for a time before drinking can soften the bitterness without compromising the taste.
Red wine glasses are easy to tell apart from white or sparkling glasses. They are much rounder with larger openings. This is to increase the surface area of wine exposed to the air to allow it to continue breathing, even after it’s removed from the decanter or in place of a decanter if you don’t feel like using one.
Sometimes called a Syrah, the Shiraz wine is one of the most common varieties you can find. Shirazes often boast impressive flavours. It is common to pair a Shiraz with steak so this could be an excellent choice if you’re planning on enjoying a meaty meal.
Shiraz wine glasses are by no means the largest of the red glasses. They could even be confused for a large white glass. This, combined with Shiraz’s popularity makes it a great choice for those just starting out. There’s less pressure to find the right glass for this wine, and your guests will be unlikely to complain about presentation or taste. Just remember to not spill a Shiraz as it’s one of the darkest wines in colour and is likely to stain carpets.
Pinot Noirs are one of the softest reds you might find. In fact, they might have more in common with whites at times. They have high acidity and relatively low tannins. This would normally mean a white wine if not for its unmistakable (if light) red colour.
The Pinot Noir is one of the most versatile and yet finicky wines you may encounter. A good Pinot Noir, you can match with almost any food, from fatty salmon to duck to beef bourguignon. A not-so-good Pinot Noir may just taste weak and under-flavoured. This wine is not as potent as others, but this is why when someone loves Pinot Noir they love Pinot Noir; if you can find the right bottle of this variety you may never want to drink any other wine again.
Due to its versatile flavour and low tannins, pinot noir will sit comfortably in most wine glasses, even those with smaller openings. The common shape of glass for this wine involves a long stem (though stemless glasses are increasingly popular), a bulbous body, and a relatively petite rim.
One of the most common tastes associated with a Merlot is cherry. Chocolate is a common association too, as is raspberry, and even espresso-tasting if your bottle comes from a colder wine region. It’s a very fruity wine, again with a relatively low amount of tannins, that is perfect for enjoying rugged up by a fire. Merlots have a higher alcohol content than most wines, often 13.5% but occasionally reaching 14.5%. This makes Merlot the perfect wine to sip and indulge in. Merlot pairs well with lightly spiced red meats. Nothing too flavourful as Merlot has a lower tannin count, so softer flavours will complement each other here.
Merlot glasses have large bowls so most large wine glasses will do the trick in a pinch. Another important thing to note about Merlot is that it’s best served slightly chilled. A warm Merlot will mean you can taste the alcohol of the wine and you might miss the varied flavours. You’ll also want to not over-fill the glass when serving. This is to do with being able to swirl your wine. You might think this is a silly thing people only do in movies, but sometimes the motion helps the wine release its bouquet for a more enjoyable experience.
White wines are often considered the more feminine wines, but there’s no reason to buy into old, outdated beliefs. Whites are defined more by their acidity as they have so few tannins in comparison to their red counterparts. Not that this acidity makes the wines sour, more that they’re more complementary to summer fruits than winter fruits.
Sauvingon Blanc is one you either love or hate. It’s a divisive flavour, mostly because it’s often a dry white with very little sweetness. You might find notes of lime, green apple, and even nectarine in this wine, depending on how ripe the grape were when the wine was made. But on top of this, Sauvignon Blanc features flavours like lemongrass, basil, even jalapeño. This isn’t to say that it’s spicy, but that it has a very natural, almost earthy, grass-inspired palette that may divide.
To pair Sauvingon Blanc, look to white meats and if you’re thinking about cheese, consider goat’s milk cheese. Serve it chilled (this will help soften some of those bold flavours) in a glass with a bowl that is not so large it becomes a red glass but larger than most white glasses. This is so you can swirl the wine to enjoy the aromatic accents while you dine.
Riesling is an aromatic choice. The scents of this wine will rise from the glass, even when served chilled. You’ll likely smell orchard fruit notes like apricot, pear, and apple. Along with this you might find notes of honeycomb and even jasmine. Rieslings are on the sweeter end of the spectrum (though nowhere near a Moscato).
To impress your guests, pair this wine with spicy food. That’s right white wine and spicy food. It might be a surprise but a Riesling and strong Indian and Asian spices can work perfectly together. Because of Rieslings’ note-worthy smells, these wines are often served in glasses with large lips. This means a higher surface area to expel the pleasant smells.
The Gewürztraminer is not one of the standard wines you might find at your local cellar or bottle shop. So if you have the opportunity to pull this variety out you’ll already seem the part of a sommelier. The word ‘Gewürztraminer’ is German and it indicates a spicy/perfumed wine. This variety of grape is actually pinkish in colour, despite providing a white wine. The flavour of this variety is very similar to that of a Riesling, though the main difference is the finish of the wines. While a Riesling can often feel crisp, a Gewürztraminer can feel smooth and silky.
For serving this wine though, the same rules as the Riesling apply. Make sure you can smell the aroma wafting over before your first sip.
Sparkling wines can be red, white, or rosé. This means that you can find almost any flavour you like in sparkling wines. Of course, the most important thing to note about these wines is that they’re often celebratory and their glasses are very slim, though this wasn’t always the case. The traditional Champagne glass was low and wide, rather like a squashed red wine glass.
If you have the option to choose your glasses, you’re best to stick to the thin flutes for younger wines. This is because the thin design forces the bubbles to rise quickly and this means they pop quickly and a lot of the smell encased within the bubbles is lost to your surroundings. The reason young wines are ideal for this is that they have less complex notes and will be aromatic regardless. Older wines with more complex tastes and scents work better in lower, wider glasses that let the bubbles rise slowly, letting you enjoy and take in all the scents they have to offer.
Of course, these are just a few wines that you might enjoy and suggestions for glasses. You may have a smaller home and not have the room for an abundance of glassware, in which case the wine glass you prefer should be the one you own. Or you might experiment and find certain red wines that work better in a thinner glass for you. And of course you’ll likely try other wines. There are plenty ways to enjoy wine and of you want to know the flavours and preferred glass of each, experience is the best teacher!