At the Hill Family Estate Tasting Room we regularly hear comments about our glassware. 

Many of our guests are delighted that we use the correct glass for each of our wines: some club members have even told us that this was an important factor for them joining us. We also get the very good question as to whether or not the different glasses make a difference. 

The short answer is “yes, indeed.” 

For the longer answer, the answer to “why?”, please read on!

First, regardless of shape or size, there are three aspects of a wine glass that greatly enhance the experience of the wine: thin walls, clear, colorless material, and no rim. While these aspects make the glasses more delicate, they simply offer the least barrier between the taster and the wine. Clear, colorless crystal or glass allows the color and clarity of the wine to shine. Likewise thin walls minimize distortion from light refraction. The lack of a thick rim allows the flow of the liquid to be carefully controlled as the taster sips.

Second: to stem or not to stem.

The principle advantage to stemmed glassware is that the taster can hold the glass from the stem and not heat up the wine. Of course there are those times when a wine is served cooler than the taster would like, and it is easy to cup the bowl of the glass. Without a stem, however, this is the only option, and the wine will pick up body heat each time the glass is handled. 

There are times when stems are undesirable: in windy outdoor settings or when we have those friends over who are, shall we say, less than graceful in handling glasses. So, if Mom is coming over in her flowing blouse, avoiding breakage and spillage might rightfully trump the desire to avoid a little body heat transfer! 

So, on to the main question: size and shape…why?

The general theory is that the bigger the wine, the bigger the glass. If a wine is loaded with volatile organic compounds, a great part of the joy in drinking that is sniffing the aroma that comes off the top of the wine. A big glass offers more surface area for the wine to coat when swirled, exposing more of the wine to air, and the volume of the big glass allows ample headspace to collect those aromas. 

With the more focused aroma profile of a white wine, such as a sauvignon blanc or an albariño, a smaller glass offers the correct ratio of head space so that the taster gets maximum enjoyment without the aroma being diluted by excessive volume. Also, since these white wines are served at cooler temperatures, the reduced volume results in less surface area that is exposed to heat, thus keeping the wine at ideal temperature longer. 

With a pinot noir aroma really gets to shine. The pinot noir grape has a thin skin. Since the skins are where the tannins come from, pinot noir tends to have a much lighter body, so its interest is generated from its aromatic profile. The extra curvature in the pinot noir glass allows more surface area for these aromatic compounds to volatilize, and the reduced aperture of the rim helps to contain those aromas for the taster to enjoy. 

This, of course, is the theory. What about the practice? 

In the Hill Family Estate Tasting Room we conducted an informal experiment. We poured a measured amount of the same wine in each of the different glasses and noted which was the best match. Please note that this was not a scientific study, as the study group was small, and we could see and feel the glass, and humans are easily biased by visual evidence. However, the opinion that the traditional glass was the best choice for each of the wines was unanimous. Furthermore, experiments conducted at UC Davis using an apparatus that conceals the glass shape and size from the taster have confirmed that the proper glass makes a difference. 

What about the pros? What do the pros use to taste wines? 

Well, in scientific sensory evaluations, we use the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) glasses. Their primary (only?) benefit is that they are the same for all wines. They are small and cheap. Those are also benefits. They do the trick for providing an even field for sensory evaluation. However, they do not reflect how wine is actually consumed, and they do not show each wine at its best. 

For blind tasting we use opaque black glasses that conceal even the color of the wine. At least once in every wine student’s career, one should do a blind tasting. We offer blind tastings at the Hill Family Estate Tasting Room, and we would be happy to host you for one. It is a unique experience, and is quite eye opening (closing?). If you are interested in participating in a blind tasting, please call the tasting room at 707.944.9580 ex. 1.