Chalice, Goblet, Glass or Flute:
the importance of selecting the right vessel for your wine
It's hard to believe that fall is upon us. My Pacific Northwestern soul tells me that soon, a lasting chill will be back in the air, wet leaves will carpet the ground and candles will be lit in windows to ward off the encroaching darkness.
Literally all of Mississippi: "HA!"
While the edge may be taken off the heat now that we are officially out of summer, we still have a long way to go before we can look for anything that near resembles the Octobers of my youth.
I'm getting there. Let's talk about all the upcoming Halloween parties we will be attending in the near future. Libations will, no doubt, abound. Red wine, white wine, mysterious punches bubbling with dry ice and sparkling with effervescence . . . But how to serve them? Red solo cups? Certainly. Champagne flutes? Check. But why does it matter? It matters a great deal, friends, but perhaps not for the all the reasons you might expect.
For most of the wine world, the qualities of the vessel directly relate to optimizing the character of the wine. The most visible and influential of these attributes is the shape of the bowl, the part of the glass that actually holds the wine. The bowl contributes to shaping the aroma of the wine. After sight, smell is the primary sense with which we experience wine (you remember this because you've been paying attention over the last few articles, right?), making this particular vessel characteristic exceptionally important.
Wider, rounder bowls mean the wine comes into contact with more oxygen. This increases the aromatic qualities in the wine, which is particularly important for big, red wines like Cabernet, Merlot, Zinfandel and Red Burgundy. Air contact can help to temper higher alcohol content as well, which is an added bonus for those of us who dislike the sting of a "hot" wine.
On the other end of the spectrum, narrower bowls decrease air exposure. Too much oxygen can, in fact, overpower and dull the delicate tasting notes present in light reds and white wines. Heavier wines such as Pinot Noir and fully-oaked Chardonnay can stand up to a medium-bodied vessel, but true light whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio show best in a narrower bowl. When it's time to toast the winners of this year's Halloween costume contest, be sure to pick up a flute of Champagne; the extreme narrowness of the glass keeps your bubbly . . . well, bubbly.
Lastly in this Wine Glass 101 crash course is the absence or presence of a stem. The easiest way to think about this difference is to consider your motives. Casual or formal? Tasting or drinking? Porch or restaurant? The purpose of the stem is to keep the drinker's hand away from the bowl, thus preserving the integrity of the wine by avoiding extra external warmth. Now — to insert my own bias — how many of us causal drinkers actually grasp our wine glasses by the stem, rather than by the bowl?
Unless you are performing a formal tasting or are savoring a really exceptionally wine, there is no reason to feel like you must purchase high-end stemmed glassware. Stemless tumblers serve our everyday purposes just fine as long as you watch the temperature of your wine as your hands warm it.
Wine glasses, in my opinion, should be an expression of the wine they hold as often as possible. This requires striking a balance between function and art. A favorite wine glass is much the same as a favorite coffee mug. The texture, weight, design and heft of the glass is just as important to your wine experience as the bowl depth, rim structure and quality of glass, not to mention the quality of the wine within.
Sentimental connection also plays a role. In the mountain town where my family has spent many autumns, there is an artist, Garth Mudge, who creates freeform, hand-blown wine glasses at Winthrop Glassworks. Each one varies in color, size, thickness and texture. I buy a new one every time I visit. They are durable, unique and useful reminders of a place where Octobers are cool, crisp, wet and wonderful.
Steals, Deals and Splurges
Here's a locally available taste of my home state:
Steal: Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2015, Charles Smith Wines. Focused, clean sweetness.
Deal: Columbia Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2015, Chateau Ste. Michelle. Bright, ideal with oysters.
Splurge: Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, L'Ecole. Classic profile, coffee & sage.