Anatomy of a Wine Glass

What specifically makes a glass taste different?


It’s all about the nose. A terrible cold will quickly remind you that smell is critical to taste. Beyond just the olfactory sensation, wine is perhaps the strongest example of how smell affects taste. Perhaps more than any other sense, olfaction is capable of triggering memory and emotion. This is where the glass comes in. Exactly how much difference a glass makes depends on how attuned you are to subtle differences in aroma and how experienced you are at recognizing them.



The overall size and shape of the bowl affects what you smell and therefore what you taste. The bowl is made up of a number of features that must be considered separately, but in relation to each other to discover your own preferences. We can predict with 80% to 90% certainty which glass you will prefer with most varietal wines. With blends your preferences may vary more widely. See below for more specific discussion of how rim, air space, surface area and volume all dramatically affect your experience of any given wine.




The rim of a glass has thickness and diameter and both are important features of the glass. Thick rounded rims are the mark of cheaply made plain glasses, while a smooth rim no thicker than the rest of the glass is a good indicator of higher quality crystal. Some call this a “speed bump” and claim the turbulence caused buy the flow of the wine over the rounded bump of cheaply machined glasses has an effect on enjoyment. That may be true for the most highly tuned palates, but by far the most important feature of the rim is it’s diameter in relation to the surface area at the proper pour level. A smaller rim compared to its surface area will allow more aroma to be trapped and have a dramatic effect on the taste of the wine as you sip.

Air Space

The available air space will collect what you smell to varying degrees and have a dramatic effect on what you taste. Generally, the larger the air space the more aroma may collect to affect your taste, but as mentioned about the rim above, the ratio of rim diameter to surface area is a very important variable that will affect a wine’s taste greatly. Also the height of the glass regulates the distance of your nose to the surface of the wine and may change the composition of volatile organic compounds and esters you perceive as you drink.

Surface Area

Generally, the proper pour for any wine glass is approximately at or just below the widest part of the bowl. Maximizing the surface area relative to the size of the rim produces the richest olfactory experience of any given wine and that will definitely affect the taste. However, more is not always better. There are many cases in which it is desirable to produce less smell or to vent it off more readily. Take the case of of new world chardonnays, especially those aged in oak. In the case of oak-aged young rich chardonnays especially it is wise to minimize the ability to smell certain components that many feel make these wines too “hot” for their taste. If you are an “ABC” wine drinker (anything but chardonnay) chances are you have been breathing too much of the esters characteristic of oak-aged chardonnays and you would benefit tremendoulsy from using a proper wide-rimmed shorter bowl often called a “montrachet” to tame the oak and allow the rich oily and buttery flavors to come through.


The volume of a bowl refers to the amount of wine contained in a pour at the proper fill level. As mentioned above, the proper pour level for most glasses and most wines is at or just below the apex, or widest part of the bowl. Of course, then the overall size of the bowl dictates the volume of the pour and how often a glass must be refilled to maintain a proper level. If your host really cares about your enjoyment, you will be served with a larger glass filled to an appropriate level instead of a smaller glass filled beyond the proper height. This becomes somewhat of a problem in commercial settings where keeping several different glasses for different wines is very difficult. We don’t hesitate to decide what we’re going to be having in advance and bring our own glasses for maximum enjoyment when we go out.


This delicate feature holds some of the most important aspects of both the form and function of a wine glass. Although the stem has no effect on the tast of your wine it is still important to both form, in how a glass looks on a table and in your hand, and function, in how a glass feels to hold or when washing or storing. Stems have length and thickness and are either pulled or joined. All of these features have an impact on which is the BestWineGlass for any particular purpose. All else being equal, the taller and thinner a stem, the more fragile it will be. There’s simply no way around that. Additionally, stemware over 9-10″ tall can be difficult to store inside kitchen cabinets.

Foot / Base

This simple utilitarian component should not be overlooked when choosing stemware or a stemware line. The base or foot is generally never wider that the bowl so its width is rarely a matter of concern when it comes to storage, however the with of a base and, more importantly that of the bowl, should be considered very carefully when using a hanging wine glass rack. as with the construction of the stem the base can be pulled from a single continuous piece of glass, which is usually of greater strength or joined afterward. The base must be in good proportion to the bowl to make it stable and easy to hold and most glasses have proportional bases, but not all so it pay to be aware of this feature.

I am constantly amazed at how different wines can taste in different glasses.  I cannot count how many times that I have been disappointed by wines served either in inferior or inappropriate wine glasses, both in restaurants and in private houses.

Ed McCarthy

Dessert wines are luscious after-dinner drinks that will linger on your palate more deliciously than any mousse, cake or pie. Once you start sampling dessert wines, with or without a perfectly paired dessert, you may just find that you’d rather drink dessert than eat it.

Michele Borboa

Author, Make-Ahead Meals Made Healthy