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Explainer

How to Choose Wine Glasses

Shape and size can impact your drinking experience — find the best fit

Janice Williams By August 9, 2022
assortment of wine glasses, with a small amount of different varietals in each, lays flat on a blush background
Photo courtesy of AdobeStock

When Victoria James was writing her highly acclaimed book “Wine Girl: The Trials and Triumphs of America’s Youngest Sommelier,” she found a note that her 6-year-old self had written to her father. “Daddy, I’m so sorry. I broke a glass. Please don’t be mad,” it read. 

James doesn’t remember if she got in trouble, but years later, broken glass is still a major concern. As the beverage director of Gracious Hospitality Management, which owns the Michelin-starred New York City restaurant, Cote, it’s something that James constantly battles.

“As a beverage director, you’re always trying to maintain costs, and the sound of a broken glass is just like money leaving the bank,” says James. “But when you work at a busy restaurant, there’s no escaping it.”

Wine glasses break. That’s why durability is important to consider when choosing a wine glass.

The shape and size of the glass are other important factors.

All about varietal-specific glassware

In 1973, Riedel became the first company to create a series of glassware to showcase specific grapes and styles. Consumers could now drink their Bordeaux ― or their Riesling, or their Burgundy ― out of glasses designed to highlight the wine’s best features. 

In the years since, plenty of varietal-specific glassware collections have hit the market, and are a staple of fine dining restaurants and wine bars. With so many well-priced glasses now available, wine lovers can also enjoy the right glass for their favorite wine, too. 

“The whole purpose of varietal-specific stemware is to enhance every single little detail of the wine and make it taste as delicious as possible,” says James. “Drinking wine out of mason jars at a friend’s place is fine, especially when you’re in the moment and not putting too much thought into what you’re drinking. But if you really want to experience everything the wine has to offer, the shape and size matter.”

These are things that James considered when creating her Signature Series Warm & Cool Region stemware with Lenox. 

“Wines from warmer climates usually have higher alcohol. There’s more ripeness, and more development of fruitiness. So you need more wiggle room for all of that to work around in the glass and show itself, versus a wine from a cooler climate with more restrained ripeness and aromatics,” says James. “Those wines tend to be less intense and have lower alcohol, body, and richness. You need a smaller outlet to really hone in on those delicate and precious nuances.”

With such a wide pool of varietal-specific glassware already widely available, James felt taking the climate approach was a more straightforward solution. “Glassware has become more complicated than it needs to be, and I love simplicity,” James says.

Then there’s the universal glass, designed to accommodate the largest number of varieties and styles.

Editor’s note: See our article on the history of the universal wine glass here

Quick tips for choosing wine glassware

There are a few rules of thumb to remember when shopping for stemware. The first is that thinner, more delicate glasses mean there’s less glass in the way of the first sip, enhancing the drinking experience.

But avoid glasses that are extremely delicate if you plan to use them every day. Otherwise, you’ll be committing yourself to endless handwashing. Before buying, check if the glasses can go into the dishwasher or not. 

“I wanted to make glassware and stemware that was affordable — not just nice to look at. And I wanted it to be durable and dishwasher safe,” says James. 

James also advises drinkers to avoid colored glass as it can “definitely affect the way you enjoy the wine.” 

“Even if you’re only shelling out $20 for a bottle, wine is an expense. You should get the most out of every sip, and your glassware is just one vehicle to do just that,” says James.

As for what to buy next time you’re hunting for glassware, there’s plenty to choose from.

Best red wine glass

Red wine tends to be higher in alcohol and bigger in body, structure, and complexity, so it needs a glass with some room. At just $69 for a four-pack, Made In’s lightweight, hand-blown red wine glasses are a great choice. The glasses are treated with titanium to help resist breakage, and they’re dishwasher safe while remaining thin and elegant.

Best white wine glass

Riedel’s Veritas Collection wine glasses are like a universal glass for white wine. That means they work to accentuate the characteristics of just about any style of white wine, from Chardonnay, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc, to Pinot Grigio. Though the mouth is narrow, the bowl is deep and round, offering plenty of space to help the wine’s best features reveal themselves with a few swirls. The glasses are lightweight and durable, and $69 for a set of two.

Best sparkling wine glass

As pretty and festive as Champagne flutes can be, they aren’t ideal for sparkling wine. Though flutes are great for showcasing bubbles, the ultra-thin and narrow shape of the vessel prevents the wine’s natural aromas and nuances from escaping the glass. A fine tulip-shaped glass, like Riedel’s Performance Champagne Glass, retailing for $60 for a pack of two, enhances sparkling wine aromas while offering a wine-drinking experience that looks and feels elegant.

Best stemless glasses

For casual sipping, turn to Rastal Harmony Stemless glassware, priced at $57 for a set of six. They’re small enough for adults to wrap their hands comfortably around the glass but large enough to enhance the nuances of most red and white wines. Another plus? They’re super durable and aren’t as likely to break when knocked down.

Best universal glass

When it comes to elegant glassware, nothing beats Zalto’s Denk’Art Universal Hand-Blown Crystal Wine Glasses — though they can be costly at $59 each. Designed to bring out the best of red and white wines, the Zalto glasses are thin, leaving only a fine line between your palate and the wine. Though they’re as light as a feather, they are dishwasher-safe.