Why are there so many glasses and which is right for me?

Ever wondered what it is about a glass that makes wine taste different? Enjoying wine is a luxury. If our only need was to get it into our mouths, few of us would bother with a glass at all. As a luxurious experience, many aspects drive our oenophilia.  The experience pleases, entertains and delights us and the physical attributes of the glass play a sublime but critical role. Grab a glass, pour some wine and let’s consciously indulge our wine-snobbiness because we like it.

Practical Effects

The practical aspects and effects of a wine glass can be simple and obvious or subtle and complex. At the bottom of the pyramid of needs, everyone recognizes the most relevant physical properties like durability, price and taste effect as the practical concerns of a wine glass. Durability is relative of course. Glass breaks. Thickness, shape and type of material all effect durability and price. Those are very practical concerns, but focusing on the wine, they also have a very direct effect on the actual taste of the wine in them. You might think a wine glass retailer is all about the glass, but we realize that the wine comes first. Still, almost everyone who invests the time to consciously compare glasses will find that the specific anatomy of a wine glass will have a dramatic effect on how we perceive the wine we drink from it.

Aesthetic Concerns

Moving up the hierarchy of wine glass needs, perhaps you are a more artistic type for whom aesthetic concerns are also important. Stop here if you think using anything more than two syllable words is pretentious and unnecessary. Where & when durability is less of a concern, a thinner, more crystal clear glass allows us to see the wine more clearly without the vessel getting in the way. A lighter glass may be more comfortable in your hand and true crystal is not only clearer, with less of the ugly green or grey hue of ordinary glass, but also refracts light better to make glasses sparkle. The downside is that adding metals, traditionally lead, makes the material more brittle. All else being equal, crystal is simply more fragile for that reason. Other metals are used today to make non-lead crystal. Glass-making is equal parts art and science and the details are important. Some metals and some processes can make glasses that are less brittle and more durable than lead crystal. But they are still “crystal” and, all else being equal, crystal will be less durable than typical plain glass. If your “needs” begin and end with the lower-level, more “practical” aspects of glassware, such as durability, don’t buy crystal.

Esteem Matters

Image can be very important too and esteem needs should not be overlooked. Let’s face it, any clown that can juggle two running chainsaws is pretty impressive, but not nearly as impressive as a better clown that can juggle three. Why shouldn’t a glass you use repeatedly cost at least as much as a bottle of wine you consume quickly? Well beyond practical matters and above even more basic aesthetic concerns there are times and places where we challenge ourselves to slow down enough to enjoy the finer things in life. There are glasses so thin that using them without breaking them becomes an exercise in genteel refinement. Babies get plastic sippy cups, children can be trusted with glass, adults can use crystal, but only experienced connoisseurs drinking to enjoy the taste of the wine more than the effect it produces on our balance can and should use very fine crystal stemware. Bringing out our best and most expensive crystal stemware is our way of recognizing the importance of some guests and showing our respect for them and our appreciation for their visit. If breaking one will have a greater negative effect on our mood than the positive effect we get from sharing them, we simply don’t don’t bring them out.

Fully Glass-Actualized

“To everything there is a season…” If that phrase evokes neither the Book of Ecclesiastes, (3:1) or King Solomon nor Pete Seeger, The Limeliters, or even the Byrds, then perhaps you are not among the most accomplished literati. No worries, I only got 3 out of 5 literary references myself and I’m the one who thought to use the phrase here to explain our philosophy of wine glasses. We really are all about the wine. More importantly, we are most interested in the enjoyment of wine, alone or in small or large groups, for the pleasure and relaxation it brings us. The BestWineGlass for any occasion is the one that best suits the circumstances in which it is used. Perhaps you are among those for whom all of these concerns play out in different settings among different groups. The truly glass-actualized among us know how to maximize enjoyment and put people before “stuff” while still recognizing the importance of having and sharing fine things when it counts.

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