Wine Glasses: How Many Do You Really Need? Which Shapes Work Best?

Wine illustration - sketch and art style isolated on white background

I’m often asked if the shape of a wine glass really matters? How does it affect the taste of wine? Just how many wine glasses do you need? Here’s my advice …

A Glass Act: The 7 Essential Wine Glasses

Wine Glass Type

Why It Works


Sparkling Wine

Champagne, Italian prosecco, Spanish cava or any other sparkling wine is best enjoyed in a tall, narrow glass to preserve the bubbles. And there are specific glasses for different kinds of bubbly, ranging from straight, very slender flutes to long-stemmed, slim white-wine style glasses.


White Burgundy

White Burgundy glasses are best for big, buttery chardonnays because of their wider bowls, which showcase the wine’s more robust aromas. Highly aromatic wines need this space to collect as you swirl and to concentrate at the top as you smell them.


Sauvignon Blanc

A more slender glass, with a bowl that’s between those of the chardonnay and sparkling wine stemware, is ideal for sauvignon blanc. The aromas in this zippy, refreshing white tend to fall in the range of the herbal and lime-citrus. These wines generally aren’t oaked. Therefore, the more closely cupped bowl deliver their zesty aromatics beautifully.


Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet sauvignon, whether from New World areas such as California or the Old World benchmark region of Bordeaux, is a highly structured wine with classic aromas of cassis, blackberry and black currant. These signature aromas are best shaped and delivered by the Bordeaux glass with its generous bowl and elegant inward curvature at the top. This wine can also be tannic in its youth, so consider decanting it for an hour or two before drinking.


Shiraz and Syrah

Shiraz and syrah are actually the same grape with different names. The former is the icon wine of Australia, while the latter has its heritage in the Rhône Valley of southern France. Both wines are robust and deeply flavored with notes of black plums and pepper. A bowl that’s even more generous than the one for cabernet is ideal for such as flamboyant red.


Pinot Noir

With its perfume of ripe cherries, fresh earth and mushrooms, pinot noir benefits from a red burgundy glass, with a much wider bowl and comparatively narrow rim than either of those for cabernet or shiraz, to concentrate those enticing aromas. In fact, this balloon-style bowl creates and aroma cloud at the top after you swirl that is so concentrated and yet so ethereal, like the wine itself. 



For a dessert wine with rich, honey-apricot aromas, such as sauternes, the perfect glass is very narrow near the stem with a wide, high bowl. This wine is produced from individually hand-picked grapes, often after several passes through the vineyards in the fall. Therefore, it’s is intensely aromatic and requires such as shape to make the most of this concentrated elixir.

© 2015 by Natalie MacLean at All rights reserved.


wine glassware

These extra glasses need not break the bank: many glassware companies sell several lines at different price points. Often their value line can even go in the dishwasher. The only thing now is for them to create a glass that makes oxidized wine taste fresh again.

Cleaning and Storing Wine Glassware

  1. Long-stemmed, crystal glasses should be hand-washed as the dishwasher will eventually etch its surface. Allow the glasses come to room temperature before washing as extreme changes in temperature can weaken crystal. Rinse them thoroughly under the hottest possible water (without burning yourself). You may want to use distilled water for the final rinse as some city water has chlorine that can leave an undesirable taste on the glass.
  2. Don’t hold the glasses by the base or stem with one hand while wiping the bowl with the other, as the delicate stem can snap. Instead hold the bowl. Most wine lovers prefer not to use soap as it can leave a residue that affects the smell and taste of the wine. But if you do use it, smell the glass after rinsing to see if you detect any lingering residue.
  3. Do not hold wine glasses by the foot in one hand while wiping the bowl with the other hand. You may snap the delicate stem. You can buy long-stemmed brushes that help to clean the bowls of large glasses, as well as decanters.
  4. For that extra clean-gleam, hold the bowl of glass over the spout of a tea kettle of just-boiled distilled water. Wipe the steam away with a lint-free cloth. To avoid water spots, dry them with a lint-free cloth—and not one that has been washed with fabric conditioner that can leave a film on the glasses.
  5. Glassware with shorter stems is more resilient and may be washed in the dishwasher. You may want to run a load separately from other dishes so that you can do so without adding soap—and so that plates coated in eggs, fish and other malodourous food won’t even faintly coat your glasses.
  6. You may want to consider using a mild, unscented specialty detergent such as Stem Shine detergent for the dishwasher that keeps your glasses streak-free without residue. You also buy a specially-made rack for the dishwasher to hold and protect your glassware as it goes through the cycle.
  7. Store your glasses right side up, otherwise the air can get trapped in the bowls and take on a musty or woody smell, depending on your cabinet. Keep them away from strong odours too, such as your stove or chemicals.


Drinking from Your Wine Glass

  1. Some wine lovers like to “condition” their wine glass before drinking: they pour about an ounce or two of the wine they’re going to drink into the glass and swirl it around the sides so that it coats the sides. Then they dump it out to get rid of any residual odours. Then they pour the wine they’ll drink into the glass.
  2. Pour the wine to no more than one-third level of the glass. This will give you room to swirl your glass in order to appreciate the aromas.
  3. Hold your glass by stem—otherwise your hands will warm the bowl and the wine, and leave unsightly fingerprints. should never be poured more than a third full.



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