Yes, wine glasses really can make a big difference in how wine tastes. In principle, you can use anything to drink wine out of and if you're drinking especially cheap wine, it's unlikely that your choice of glass will make much difference. To really get the most out of good wine, though, you should pick your wine glass with care and attention. The more care you give to buying and tasting wine, the more care you should give to having the right wine glasses.
Best Color for Wine Glasses
Although the color of a wine glass seems like it should be irrelevant to how wine tastes, it does impact how the wine appears when you look at it. Because proper tasting of wine begins with carefully looking at wine to understand its color, clarity, and consistency, then we need a wine glass that doesn't inappropriately alter the wine's color.
What this means is that some of the most visually appealing wine glasses are also some of the worst wine glasses for wine tasting. Colored glasses will completely alter the wine's color. Etched glasses or glasses with any sort of pattern will interfere with your ability to get an accurate picture of what the wine looks like. Angles around the wine glass aren't quite as bad, but they should also be avoided for the same reasons.
The best wine glasses for tasting wine are therefore completely clear, round glasses — wine glasses with no coloring, no designs, not angles, and no patterns. Plain, boring wine glasses are the best wine glasses.
Best Material for Wine Glasses
Although it might seem like nothing more than an excuse for snobbery, experience has shown over and over that higher quality glasses can have a big impact on how wine tastes. Apparently, it's possible for the exact same wine to taste completely different to people if simply served in wine glasses made from different material.
No one has been able to determine if this is merely a matter of aesthetics or if there is an actual physical reaction between wine and quality glass that doesn't occur with wine and plastic or wine and lower quality glass. The best explanation offered so far is that crystal is rougher than regular glass and this roughness creates turbulence in the wine which, in turn, causes more of the aromatic compounds in the wine to be released.
You may need to use plastic glasses in some situations, like picnics, but otherwise you want to stick with genuine glass — and, preferably, higher quality crystal wine glasses if possible. You want to avoid lead crystal, though, because research has shown that wine can leech the lead out of the glass very quickly. Lead crystal glass is especially ill-suited for decanters and other containers which will hold wine for any length of time.
Although you will certainly have a better wine tasting experience with the highest quality, thin crystal glasses, they probably cost too much for most consumers — and that's before taking into account that their fragility almost guarantees that they will break regularly.
Fortunately, you can find good, quality wine glasses at reasonable prices — and this includes crystal glasses as well. They'll cost more than the average drinking glass and even more than wine glasses at discount retailers, but it's worth a little extra expense to get the most out of every bottle of wine.
You should be prepared to spend around $50 per dozen for standard wine glasses and perhaps $75 per dozen for crystal wine glasses. If you're looking for the best wine glasses, though, you'll be spending between $50 and $100 each.
Best Thickness for Wine Glasses
It's a lot easier to appreciate what your wine looks like if you use thin wine glasses. Even if the qualify of the crystal is very good, there's no avoiding the fact that thicker glass creates distortions which will impact what you see when looking for color and clarity in your wine. The thinner the glass, the less you'll have between you and your wine.
Additionally, thinner glass helps create a finer stream of wine to run across the taste buds on your tongue. A finer stream of wine means more of the wine is mixing with the air in your mouth while more of the wine is also interacting with your taste buds. Taken together, these factors ensure that you'll get the most out of the wine you're drinking.
Best Size for Wine Glasses
Yes, even the size of a wine glass plays an important role in what your wine tastes like. Whatever you're drinking, don't use small wine glasses. You want larger glasses because you want to be able to only fill them a half to a third of the way up and still have room to swirl the wine around. If you try to do this with a small wine glass, you'll barely have a sip to drink before having to refill. Small wine glasses should be used only for sherry, port, and desert wines.
That said, you ideally need larger glasses for red wines than you do for white wines. Red wines are best served in glasses that are 12 to 16 ounces, though you can get them as large as 24 ounces. White wines are best served in glasses that are 10 to 12 ounces. Because few people can afford good crystal glasses for every sort of wine, most compromise. You can manage well with most wines by using glasses around 12 ounces.
Stem Glasses vs. Stemless Glasses
Stemless wine tumblers have become very popular in recent years and there is no denying that they can look very nice. However, there are good reasons to avoid them if you want to get the most out of your wine drinking experience — as opposed to simply wanting to look hip and stylish.
Stemless glasses force you to hold the glass by the bowl which creates two basic problems. First, the warmth of your hand will heat up the wine, changing its temperature from whatever is optimal to something higher. Even your first sip of wine may not be at the right temperature.
Second, even if you just washed your hands you'll end up putting finger prints and hand prints on the bowl, impeding your ability to see the wine properly. Who wants to try to gauge the color and clarity of wine by trying to look through their own finger prints and smudges?
Wine glasses have stems not for the sake of looking elegant (though they do), but precisely so you can hold them by the stem. This ensures that the heat of your hand isn't transferred to the wine and keeps the glass bowl from being smudged.
Best Shapes for Wine Glasses
Although the material, color, size, and thickness of wine glasses are all important, the single most important aspect of a proper wine glass is its shape. Different wines require different sorts of wine glasses to best appreciate the wine's flavor. Because there is so much to cover in order to explain which wine glasses to use, they are covered in a separate article: Best Shapes for Wine Glasses