What’s the deal with differently shaped glassware? Some glasses are tall and thin, some glasses are short and wide. Can’t I just buy a glass from the dollar store? They all do the same thing, right?

No. Not at all. Not even close. Glassware matters! Let me explain.

Most of what we perceive as “taste” is created by aroma compounds that float through the passageway in your nose and land on your palate. When wine is poured into a glass, vapours filled with these aromatic compounds rise from the liquid. Influenced by the shape of the glass, they will collect at different positions and in different densities at the top of the opening. It only makes sense that certain wine styles will taste better when enjoyed from a glass that is designed to best accentuate the composition of aromas that makeup that style. If you still think I’m crazy (or that I’m just a wine snob!) a back-to-back taste test will prove I am right!

The Basics on Conducting a Proper Wine Tasting

Let’s begin by stating that it is important to smell and taste wine in a room that is devoid of other extraneous smells such as cooking or perfume. This serves to prevent the drinker from confusing these non-wine aromas with the aromas coming from the wine itself.

Pour an ounce or two of wine into its proper glass (see below) as well as another ounce or two into any incorrect glass. Starting with the incorrect glass, lift the opening to your nostrils and inhale through your nose. Take your time and close your eyes to aid in your concentration. Is the aroma light or intense? Can you detect any individual aromas or can you simply smell the “bouquet?”

Next swirl your glass vigorously to force oxygen into the wine. Exercise caution when swirling wine in incorrect glassware. Straight-edged glassware may cause the wine to fly out. After swirling, smell the wine a second time. Forcing oxygen into the wine should have “opened it up.” You may detect new aromas that you did not the first time, and the scents you pick up on should seem more intense.

Finally, take a sip of wine. It is important to take your time and allow some of the liquid to pass over every part of your tongue. Different parts of your tongue are sensitive to different types of flavours. If you simply pour the wine into your mouth and then swallow it, you will do yourself a disservice as you will detect only a fraction of the flavours that makeup the wine.
After smelling and tasting the wine in the incorrect glass, repeat the same steps with the correct glassware. Taste back and forth between the two as many times as necessary to note the differences. I am certain you will agree after a back-to-back taste test, that a given wine style will taste better when it is enjoyed from glassware that allows the wine to best express itself. Let’s go over some examples.

Meritage / Bordeaux / Cabernet-Merlot

This is a classic assemblage of 3 grape varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. While there may be trace elements of other grapes in the blend, these 3 varietals are essential. Its most famous incarnation is as red Bordeaux, when the grapes are grown and vinified in the Bordeaux region of France. When made in Niagara it is known as Meritage, or simply as Cabernet-Merlot. This wine is recognized for its full body, its high levels of tannins and acid, its maturation in oak, and its ability to improve in the bottle with time.

A red Bordeaux glass is characterized as having a bowl that is medium in width, tall in height, and with a medium sized opening at the top. Be sure to choose a glass that scoops inward at the top, which should be the case for all of your wine glasses regardless of which style of wine they are for. The inward scoop allows aroma compounds to collect where they will meet your nose, unlike glassware which is straight-edged at the opening which will permit aroma compounds to escape.

* Note that incorrect service temperature will have a negative impact on how a wine tastes as well. The ideal service temperature for Meritage is 15oC to 18oC.

White Burgundy / Cool Climate Oak-Matured Chardonnay

Many lovers of cool climate, oak-matured Chardonnay consider the products being grown and vinified in Burgundy, France, to be one of the best examples of this wine style in the world. Fortunately for Ontarians, the Niagara Region possesses a similar terroir to Burgundy, allowing us to produce world class wines that are comparable to the best white Burgundy.
Chardonnay is a grape that grows well all around the world, so what sets the Chardonnays of Burgundy apart? A cool climate encourages flavours of green apple and citrus, and limestone laden soils produce a wine with minerality (an exciting flavour that is best described as licking a wet stone). This is in contrast to Chardonnays grown in hot climates that will produce flavours of tropical fruits.

A Burgundy glass is characterised as having a very wide bowl that is short in height, and with an opening that is wide as well.

* Note that the ideal service temperature for white Burgundy is 10oC to 13oC.

Riesling—Sweet or Dry

Riesling is a light-bodied white wine that is very high in acid. There is a common misconception that Riesling is always a sweet wine, but it can be made as a wine that is bone dry as well. It is known as an “aromatic” varietal (similar to Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer) because it possesses an aroma that is intensely perfumed. Some of the best examples of Riesling come from Alsace, France, but the Niagara Region is known for making world-class Rieslings as well, especially in the Niagara Escarpment appellation.

A proper Riesling glass has been designed to accentuate the aromatic quality of this wine. The glass will have a narrow bowl, a tall height, and a narrow opening at the top. The narrow shape of the glass serves to focus this wine’s aroma compounds up into your nose.
* The ideal service temperature for Riesling is 7oC to 10oC.

Still not convinced that glassware has an impact on the aroma and flavour of your favourite wine? Get yourself some style specific glassware and give it a try at home!

To learn more about how to get the most of your wine, join a tour of Niagara’s wine country with the experts at Niagara Vintage Wine Tours! Our Wine Smart Guides are excited to share their knowledge with you in a friendly and encouraging environment. Call our guest services agents to book a tour today at 1-866-628-5428.

Michael Twyman
Sommelier and Wine Smart Guide for Niagara Vintage Wine Tours and Bootleggers

* The opinions and recommendations in this article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect Niagara Vintage Wine Tours or Bootleggers.