As my other half makes homemade wine, we drink a lot of wine that doesn't have the benefit of tasting notes on the label, or even a label at all. Part of the fun of the first bottle of a new batch is working out which glass is best to drink it from. To do this, we need some understanding of why wine glasses are different shapes.
There are four features to a wine glass which each serve critical roles. From the bottom to the top they are...
The base quite possibly is the easiest of all the parts to understand. It makes sure the glass doesn't tip over. Don't cry over spilt milk, but spilt wine is another story.
The stem serves two distinct purposes.
The first is to allow the drinker to hold the glass without touching the bowl. If you hold a wine glass by the bowl you risk heating the wine from your body temperature. It's not ideal, especially for wines that need to be served cool or cold. If you feel your wine is too cold, cupping the bowl is the most effective way to warm the wine up.
The second is holding the glass by the stem will keep the drinker's hands away from the rim of the glass. Our hands have their own unique scent which most of the time is increased in intensity through the use of fragrant soaps, lotions and perfumes. These scents can overpower, mask or change the aromas from the wine so the design of the stem allows these scents to stay as far away from the drinker's nose as possible while still allowing for adequate control of the glass. Some professionals even go as far as to hold the base rather than the stem for this reason.
The bowl of the glass is where the wine is settled.
The best glasses have a wider bowl than rim to allow for proper swirling. The swirl releases volatile aroma compounds and creates a vortex in the centre of the glass towards which these compounds are drawn. When the drinker then puts their nose in the glass after the swirl, they sniff in a concentrated amount of the aromas directly out of the glass. This allows for even the most nuanced of aromas to be detected.
The larger the bowl, the more surface area the wine can cover. The more surface area the greater amount of volatile compounds can be released. Keep in mind that a wine glass usually shouldn't be filled to more than one-third the total height of the bowl in order to have proper swirling room. Otherwise you risk losing your wine in a wild swirling accident and again, avoid spilt wine at all costs!
This rim is the point where the wine makes contact with the taster's mouth. The thinner the rim of the glass, the more seamless this transition is and the more the taster can focus on the perception of the wine in their mouth and less on the feel of the glass.