Sunday, August 7, 2011

Enjoy Your Wine More! -- Wine Glasses 101

Many articles are written about how to choose a wine.  The current guideline from the people who do such things is, thankfully, much more flexible and wine-drinker friendly.  

 As a painter, customers frequently ask me which glass, design, and/or which color would be "best".  In this post, I share some designs along with glass types and shapes as an introduction to future posts about the wonderful myriad of stemware choices.

Red wine, white wine and sherry and port glasses

First, let me explain that designs can be painted on nearly any glass with a smooth surface.  Prices may reflect the material -- crystal or glass-- and quality of the material as well as the painting time involved. 

Happily there are now options for many price ranges, plus non-lead crystal and dishwasher-safe crystal.   

Painting on crystal is like skiing on the lightest powder – a silky, lustrous texture in the hand.  Crystal also yields a slightly different translucency to the paint, allowing more subtlety to the finished result.  There are now so many affordable price options for crystal that it is becoming ever more popular.  Most Etsy sellers are willing to accommodate special requests, so inquire if you have a preference.

However, the paint may not be dishwasher-safe and may flake or fade.  Some glasses or crystal (according to a manufacturer’s rep) expand under extreme heat in a dishwasher; the paint may not expand and may crack.  When shopping for glasses online, read the seller’s satisfaction guarantee and return policy. 

Of course, the design options are limitless, and I really enjoy creating new designs.  Customers frequently request new combinations and designs.  Based on info from my customer and her objective, I usually email swatches of colors and photos of a prototype before beginning to paint.  When finished, I send photos of the completed stemware.  Paint is a wonderful medium to get things just as you want them!
I’m big on multi-tasking and I bet you are, too, so when looking for stemware, imagine it holding a rich chocolate mousse or fresh fruit.  Of course, it works for martinis and margaritas, too!

Next is which style of glass to choose.

Here are several styles of wine glasses, using the same basic design theme, and you can see the thin crystal glasses on the left (with lighter designs) and glass-glasses on the right with thicker stems and rims.  

If you’ve ever wondered why there are different shapes for different wines, below is a basic primer.  Until the mid-50’s, wine glasses had the same general shape.  Beautiful glasses and very elegant!

Vintage Crystal Wine Glass from VintageBiffAnn
However, taste testing in the 1950’s determined that the shape of the glass has enormous impact on how the wine’s bouquet, taste, balance and finish are interpreted by our taste buds.  In fact, I invite you to experiment with the same wine with different glasses -- I guarantee you'll be surprised!

In deciding between crystal and glass, the differences are more than just price, as you’ll see below.
Let’s begin at the top of the glass. 

Crystal vs. Glass
The circumference and shape of the rim determines how the wine is delivered to the tongue.  Some rims deliver the wine to the tip or the center of the tongue, while a rolled (thick) rim typically inhibits the delivery of the wine and the drinker misses out on the full flavors.

The bowl may be round, oval, straight, tulip or other shape – each of which determines how much and how fast the wine is experienced, the aeration and other effects.  A robust red wine tasted from a round-bowl wine glass will taste dramatically different than when tasted from a straight-bowl glass.
3 different shaped wine glasses

The stem may be long, short or nonexistent.   The stem allows the drinker to hold the glass without touching the bowl.  Touching the bowl raises the temperature of the wine; the temperature of the wine is important because low temperatures reduce the intensity, whereas high temperatures promote mainly alcoholic fumes.  

The stem also enhances the overall aesthetics of the glass.  Crystal stems are typically thinner and more elegant than glass stems.  Stemless glasses are fairly popular and provide a modern look although many modern wine glass designs feature stems.


The base or foot obviously holds everything upright.  One way my glasses are distinctive is that I paint a different design on each glass’ base, for distinguishing whose glass is whose.  Frequently, these designs also become a friendly conversation starter.
For more details on selecting the perfect wine glass, 
I find that Riedel has the most information at

One interesting aspect of the shape is that wide, open glasses require us to sip by lowering our head.  On the other hand, a narrow glass forces the head to tilt backwards to drink, and the wine flows because of gravity.  Thus, the wine is delivered and positioned for optimal placement on the different "taste zones" of the palate.

As with choosing wine, there is some flexibility in glass selection.  Nonetheless, using the “wrong” glass obviously affects how we perceive the wine. Perhaps the drinker feels disappointed that the sweet fruit flavors are absent or that the flavor is overwhelmed by tartness.  When this happens, the wine is thought to be the culprit rather than the shape of the glass.
It will take time to recognize that
a glass is not just a glass, 
but an instrument of 
pleasure and enjoyment. -- Riedel

At your next party, you'll be the expert on wine glasses!  Cheers!


Wine Glasses - Black and Silver

Joseph's Coat Glasses

Beverage glasses - Joseph's Coat design


  1. Wonderfully informative article! I just learned to open my mouth when smelling the wine, now I'll have to make sure I'm using the right glass while doing so :)

  2. I would be terrified to ship anything glass. brave girl!

  3. Great article. We have friends that are true wine connoisseurs and they taught my husband and me all about using the correct wine glass. But, the best advice they ever gave us about wine was, if you like it is good, if you don't it isn't.

    Love reading your blog, always something interesting to read!

  4. @ Jaci - interesting how those 'little' things make a big difference!

    @SchulmanArt - lol... only thing that broke was a crystal glass being shipped about 20 miles away, via overnight carrier. Maybe I should've just delivered it! :)

    @Kathy - That's the best part: you're always right!!

  5. Being a wine lover AND a glass lover, I thank you for your informative post!