A wine glass is – as British wine Jedi Master Jancis Robinson so perfectly puts it – “not just the final container for wine, but an important instrument for communicating it to the human senses.” This sums it up in one sentence. Also, wine glasses are dead sexy. They come in many shapes and sizes, designed through the years to cater to the aesthetic of your kitchen and dining experience. But among all these shapes and sizes, there’s also a function here. For wine geeks like me, the stemware has a purpose.
A wine glass has three components, a bowl, a stem and a foot. Ideally the glass will be one piece, blown into the correct shape. The bowl of the glass is shaped in such a way that one can see the wine for visual assessment and it should have a wide bottom that narrows towards the rim in order to allow two things: one, to enable the drinker to rotate the wine without spilling and two, to encourage the poetic aromas to waft into your senses, maximizing the experience. An added bonus is a thin rim, which allows for an elegant transfer from glass to palate. The stem – which in addition to making the glasses profile look dead sexy – serves a necessary purpose, and that is to aid in the rotation of the wine, helping it open up and expediting the aeration process, while also providing a place to hold the glass so your hand doesn’t raise the wine’s temperature. The foot is, of course, self explanatory right?
But you can drink wine however you want. When you buy that bottle, it is yours and no one can tell you how to consume it. You can hold it by the bowl like Olivia Pope and the world will not end. You can slug it down from the bottle itself! WHO CARES! But if you are a wine enthusiast and want to really start getting into this natural phenomenon, holding a glass by the stem will definitely give you the better experience.
When you hold the wine glass by the bowl the temperature of your body will begin to affect the way the wine opens. Wines are served a specific temperatures so that they can open naturally in the glass, interacting with the room and the vessel itself. If you hold your glass by the bowl, you are warming up the wine and encouraging rapid alcohol evaporation, which may give you the sense that the wine is “hot” and mask the subtle complexities the wine wants to give you.
When a wine is poured into a glass and oxygen is introduced, a journey begins. A journey that ends with what the winemaker was going for when they made it. Interrupting that journey is like taking a detour and never being able to truly find the road again – once a wine is warmed, it can never get back to that natural process of “opening”. As an added bummer, the oils of your skin will smudge the wine glass, making it harder to view the wine against the light.
So if a wine glass with a stem is so important, why the hell were stemless wine glasses invented in the first place? And invented by the most purist of glass makers, Reidel? Growing up, my Italian grandfather drank wine with every meal and when he couldn’t sleep. He didn’t use stemware. He used a juice glass. Why? Because he wasn’t trying to assess the cheap ass wine he made in the basement. He was just controlling his portion. The stemless wine glass was invented for this purpose. But because it is Reidel, they had to go and make the glasses look sexy.
So a stemless wine glass is made for same purpose as my grandfather used his juice glass. They are for picnics and casual events. They are easier to store and travel. They’re for the wine you consume in a casual setting, like a roof top party or a picnic, it’s wine that is affordable and often a crowd pleaser, and you don’t care about getting the glass oily or warming up the wine. In fact, when you serve a red wine chilled in the warmer months, a stemless glass helps the wine warm up to a nice refreshing temperature. There is actually a company, GoVino, that make plastic stemless wine cups for this purpose.
So drink that wine however you want. It’s my job to just highlight the differences and explain why we have the stemware in our lives to begin with.
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