A practical guide to wine glasses

There are three main cabinets of dishes in our kitchen. The main one above the dishwasher holds our daily use plates and bowls, coffee cups, water glasses, and a collection of stemless wine glasses that we use as daily use juice glasses. A small one of the other side of the counter holds our “special use” dishes. We didn’t pick out china when we got married, but we did pick out a more decorative, white ceramic, set dishes that could accommodate 12 people, thus providing us matching dishes for dinner parties, holidays, etc. Josh does not understand why we have these dishes that only come out of the cupboard four or five times a year, but they have their own home in their own cabinet.

On the other side of the sink is our cabinet of bar ware. It’s pretty straightforward. A shelf of white wine glasses. A shelf of red wine glasses. A set of champagne flutes. A set of on the rocks glasses. A pair of whiskey glasses. Two beer tasting glasses. A set of four shot glasses. A jigger. Three martini glasses….

Image result for barware

Suddenly, this doesn’t sound straight forward at all!

While it’s perfectly practical to drink just about any beverage out of any glass, in the world of bar and stem ware, there’s all kind of theories and “etiquette” about how cocktails are served. Thus, many of us wind up with a small collection of various service options, and, if you’re like me, end up drinking out of your favorite glass or two regardless of what’s on the menu!

When wine is on the menu, however, there is a bit of method to the madness. Wine glasses are generally designed to help enhance the quality of the type of wine you’re serving. So pouring the right wine into the right glass could, in theory, affect how you perceive the wine overall. If you’re sipping your favorite $7 bottle of rosé out of a plastic wine tumbler on a boat in the middle of summer, you might not care. If you’ve splurged on a $50 bottle of something special for an anniversary, you might want to get the full experience.

Wine glasses are essentially four components: the rim, the bowl, the stem, and the base. The rim is the edge of the glass where the wine comes in contact with your mouth. The rim, ideally is thin so as not to impede the taster’s ability to perceive the texture of the wine. The bowl of the glass should be wider in the middle than at the rim to allow the wine to be swirled and aerated. The stem of the glass is important because it keeps your hand off the bowl. Holding the wine glass by the bowl allows the heat from your hand to transfer to the wine. Thus, stemless wine glasses aren’t generally suggested for fine wines. The base allows the glass to stand, so it should be proportionately sized to match the size of the bowl.

The various ratios of bowl size, height, and the opening at the rim create the collections of dozens of glasses you may see at bars or in your wino friend’s bar cabinet. Generally speaking, people recognize the difference between red and white wine glasses. The white glasses tend to be narrower with a smaller diameter bowl. Red wine glasses are rounder with a wide, stout bowl that exposes more surface area of wine to the air for better aeration.

Within those broad categories of red and white glasses, however, are significantly more variants.

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If you’re sorting varieties based on reds and whites, those glasses above sort out as follows:


First the reds…


Full bodied reds are served in a wine glass that is taller than the other red wine counterparts because they are designed to heighten the aroma of the wine. The tallest of the red wine glasses is technically the Cabernet glass which is a bit more angular than round to funnel the aroma straight to the drinker’s nose.

Light bodied reds are served in slightly shorter glass with a slightly wider rim. This allows for the flavor of the wine to open up as you drink it. The aroma and taste go hand in hand with a light bodied red like a Zinfandel, a thin rim will ensure the proper experience and full quality of the palette and aroma of the wine.

Rosé glasses have the longest stems of all the red wine glasses because rosé is often served chilled, and a long stem keeps the body heat of the hand away from the bowl of the glass. Some rose glasses come with a flared lip. This is primarily designed to help direct the wine to a certain part of the tongue as it’s sipped. Because rosés are generally younger wines, they aren’t always immediately sweet. Thus, directing the wine towards the sweet receptive taste buds on the tongue helps enhance the natural qualities of the wine.


Unlike red wines, white wines do not generally need to breathe. In fact, some white wines quickly lose the complexity of their aroma when exposed to the air. With a light bodied white wine, the rim of the glass is narrowed to limit air exposure so as not to oxidize the wine and lose the delicate floral notes that may present on the nose. The narrow shape of the glass, like the rosé glass, also helps to direct the wine to certain parts of the tongue that may be most receptive to the flavors of the light bodied white wines.

Full bodied white wines are served in a glass with a slightly larger bowl. This allows the full flavor of the wine to unfold in each sip. The wide shape also helps direct wine to the sides and back of the mouth allowing for a full mouth feeling. This is particularly desirable with a wine like a buttery chardonnay in which mouth feel is a key part of the wine’s experience.


Lastly, special wines call for special glasses. Sparkling wine glasses are tall and narrow designed primarily to preserve the carbonation of the wine as long as possible. Again, because many sparkling wines are served chilled, the stem is long to keep residual heat away from the bowl of the glass. The narrow shape of the glass forces the wine to the tip of your tongue on each sip, which intensifies the “bubbly” experience and forces the carbonation to the forefront of the palette and nose.

Dessert wine glasses are the smallest of the glasses as dessert wines are often particularly sweet and have a higher percentage of abv. Thus, a much smaller pour of wine goes a long way, and a much smaller glass accommodates the intensity of flavors helping to concentrate them into each sip. The small rim of the glass also forces the wine to the tip of the tongue, allowing the flavor and sweetness of the wine to open up to the whole palette more gradually.

Of course, you can’t expect the glass to do all the work. The quality and vintage of the wine have much to do with your experience as well. If you’re looking for a great option for reds, white, or sparkling, check out the wine list.


Published by Kate

A former Wisconsinite, Kate now resides in southeast Minnesota with her husband where she teaches high school English and theater. She recently completed her master's degree in learning design and technology, and continues to study and advocate for arts integration in the classroom. A recipient of the RISE America grant for high school theater, Kate is working to innovate and expand theater opportunities for the students at PIHS. An avid distance runner, concert pianist, and want-to-be wine aficionado, Kate's blog "ink." is a passion project, embodying all the best parts of life: friends, food, wine, thoughtful conversation, style, and sass!

3 thoughts on “A practical guide to wine glasses

    1. Most of us probably do. Or have one set of glasses that all of our wine goes into. It’d be curious to know if you saw a palpable difference in your favorite wine in a different glass!?


  1. I’ll be sure to let you know Kate. I definitely think it would be worth the investment. I prefer white, not too sweet or bitter. Maybe the light bodied white.


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