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.


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

Cynthia: Welcome back! There’s nothing quite like a relaxing evening spent curled up with a book on one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Although there are times admittedly when I feel like curling up with the whole bottle.

Melissa: I think a lot of us feel that, as long as you don’t drink it from the bottle, of course. Our next guest says it will have an effect on how it tastes.

Cynthia: I have heard that and here to break down the anatomy of the wine glass is a sommelier and the editor of the country’s largest wine review site, Natalie MacLean.

Natalie: It is good to be back.

Cynthia: So Natalie there are a lot of options when it comes to glassware. Are there hard and fast rules when it comes to buying wine glasses?

Natalie: There may not be hard and fast rules but there are some guidelines and I think it might help to start with what not to do. So this is the wine glass equivalent of the ugly Christmas sweater that is so wrong in so many ways.

Traci: I like that glass.

Natalie: I know. It is vintage but vintage is not always your friend.

Traci: Okay.

Natalie: The shape, for instance, is too wide. It’s traditionally a Champagne coupe but it’s going to let all the bubbles escape. If it is too narrow it doesn’t hold enough wine and if it’s painted, you can’t see the colour of the wine. This, traditionally, was shaped after the breast of Marie Antoinette. ‘Let them eat cake but don’t let them drink wine from this.’

Lainey: Very good.

Traci: Natalie come on over here.

Natalie: Thank you.

Traci: Each of us is positioned behind different kinds of wine. So at each station we have the four main types of glasses and we’re going to try each of our respective wines and you’re going to talk us about the way it would taste different.

Natalie: Exactly, you’re doing fine.

Traci: You can stop me whenever you want.  No surprise I’ve chosen Sparkling wine.

Natalie: Yes.

Traci: Why is it always served in the flutes?

Natalie: Exactly, it is science, here. The flute, you’ll notice, is elongated glass and that is to preserve the bubbles so that nice beaded liquid pearls should always be protected. If you put them in a wider glass…good work Traci.

Traci: Okay. So, if I put it in a white wine glass what will happen to then? Can I try it?

Natalie: Yes, you should.  So, it’s not bad but that’s a much wider glass and the bubbles can dissipate. The temperature can come up to room temperature far more quickly. You’re noticing that are you?

Traci: I am, yes. I’m not sure if it is in my mind, but it feels like it’s as fruity as the first sip.

Natalie: That’s right. That flute glass is also delivering an aroma cloud right where you want it, right?

Traci: Okay. So, it is mouth/nose connection.

Natalie: Exactly.

Traci: Can we go to the red wine glass?

Natalie: Yes.

Traci: It is a shame to say that I don’t have one in my house. I just serve red wine in a white wine glass.

Natalie: That’s okay.

Traci: I will change glass after today, so here’s the red wine.

Natalie: So it’s a nice big glass and you may like that for other reasons but it’s not good for Sparkling. Really, this is the worst wine glass for Sparkling because all the bubbles can go wherever they want, they’re already fading in this wine.

Traci: I can feel them in my nose this way.

Natalie: Exactly.

Traci: Alright, the dessert glass?

Natalie: Not much of the difference there between that and the white.

Traci: But you know I always try them anyway.

Natalie: I love your work ethic.

Traci: Thank you for that, so always use the flute.

Natalie: A flute is best for Sparkling.

Traci: Perfect.

Natalie: Right.

Traci: Thank you, Natalie.

Natalie: Cheers!

Lainey: Okay, Natalie, it’s my turn now. If I’m drinking wine it’s either going to be white or Rosé so here’s the white wine glass.

Natalie: Yes.

Lainey: And why is this ideal?

Natalie: This is a nice fresh zippy white wine, a Sauvignon Blanc. If we have the flute glass which is mainly to preserve the bubbles and we put it in the white wine glass it’s like sitting too close to the orchestra …  you’re going to hear that instrument and that instrument but you’re not allowing it all to come together in that aromatic cloud at the top of the glass.

Lainey: It’s restricting it.

Natalie: It is. You’re too close up; you want to let that white wine breathe so to speak.

Lainey: Oh yes!

Natalie: You’re getting that.

Lainey: This is more fruity over here.

Natalie: It is.

Lainey: Okay.

Natalie: And so you’ll keep going, the dessert glass is not going to be that different from the white wine glass.

Lainey: Okay. Like Traci I’ll try it anyway.

Traci: Good to share, you know?

Natalie: Exactly.

Lainey: I want to learn here, I really do.

Natalie: You’re so dedicated, it’s just heartwarming.

Lainey: So what about the white wine and the red wine glass?

Natalie: Okay, here we’re looking at a glass that’s just too big for this white. This white is not aromatic enough to make it out of that glass or it will almost gets lost in the glass.

Lainey: It’ll get suppressed, I guess.

Natalie: Exactly, you’ll smell more of the glass than the wine.

Lainey: I do, I smell the glass.

Natalie: The glass, yes.

Lainey: All I do is I smell the glass.

Natalie: Yes.

Traci: And it hit bubbles on my nose with this one.

Lainey: Not that it tastes really good.

Natalie: It’s good that you try it though.

Lainey: Yes, thank you very much.


Cynthia: Natalie, come on over here. I love a big bold red glass of wine.

Natalie: Yes.

Cynthia: And I’m going to shout out to my parents who are like Traci. They only have this glass used for white and for red. So tell them so I don’t have to, why they should be investing in this size of glass?

Natalie: Okay, so if you really love your daughter… where are they?

Cynthia: They’re there.

Natalie: Okay, this is a great gift for Christmas. So when you’re dealing with a big bold red, it’s very aromatic. You have an aroma cloud coming on, yes go ahead. You need a big honkin glass to capture all those aromas. Swirl it around. Swirling is important, too. If you try swirling that in that coupe or smaller glass you’re going to be slashing it to the right to the left. So wine is aromatic and it’s all in the nose. You have a big wine, you need a big glass.

Cynthia: Okay. This will be on… I’m going to be getting them these.

Melissa: It is also done to continue to aerate it?

Natalie: Good point, very good point. So wine breathes just as we do. It comes together and the more it’s open, the longer it’s open. Especially with a big red … you have to let it have that space to do that because as it interacts with the oxygen it’s becoming more volatile. The aromas are literally becoming airborne.

Cynthia: It’s becoming more passionate?

Natalie: It is.

Cynthia: It becomes a better, more vibrant wine and I love that.

Natalie: Exactly. Just like a drinker.

Cynthia: Okay exactly.

Natalie: Yes, good.

Cynthia: So, now, I’m going to go with this in my parent’s house.

Natalie: I’m feeling this is a bit of…

Traci: Or my house?

Natalie: This is getting personal but it’s not a bad glass. It just doesn’t give the room that the red wine really needs, you know to go…

Cynthia: Yes.

Natalie: Like the fit confining horse to a stable or something.

Cynthia: Right.

Melissa: Confining a horse to its stall.

Natalie: Yes.

Melissa: That was it.

Natalie: Let it go in the big field. Let it gallop; a red wine needs to gallop.

Cynthia: Okay and obviously this is constricting it even more.

Natalie: That’s just weird for red wine but…

Cynthia: Yes.

Lainey: Try it anyway Cyn.

Cynthia: Yes I feel trapped.

Natalie: You do.

Cynthia: I feel yes, it’s not a pleasant experience.

Natalie: Yes, suppress, it’s not working.

Cynthia: Okay.

Natalie: And dessert wine is pretty much the same as the white wine.

Cynthia: Okay, thank you. Thank you for shaming my parents.

Melissa: Alright Natalie.

Natalie: Okay.

Melissa: Last but not least, the dessert wine. My father is Portuguese. A nod to Port is where we’re at right now. So we’re going to start here with the proper glass which is the dessert wine glass.

Natalie: It is.

Melissa: Why is it the best for this kind of dessert wine?

Natalie: It’s a bit smaller than the rest ,you’ll notice. With port we’re looking at fortified wines with 20% alcohol versus others at 12%-13%.

Melissa: I smell it.

Natalie: You do. It’s very aromatic. A little goes a long way, so you only want to pour 2 ounces or so. If you poured it into that big red glass you aren’t going to be awake to see Santa.

Cynthia: Sorry Santa.

Natalie: Exactly, and so even if you have a dessert wine that’s not as alcoholic, like a Canadian ice wine, it’s only 10% or 11%  … but again it’s sweet , it’ll be like eating an entire cheesecake.

Melissa: This is a big cheesecake for sure.

Natalie: Big cheesecake.

Melissa: Okay, let’s talk about the flute and why a flute is not a good idea for dessert wine?

Cynthia: I would think that would look the prettiest. That would be the prettiest choice.

Natalie: It is pretty and if you have a cocktail that would be nice or maybe a spritzer with a nice floating festive raspberry. But again it’s wine and so the beauty of wine is trying to bring out the aromas. Form follows function just like when you’re buying a bra, the right bra for the right function.

Lainey: Amen.

Melissa: Function.

Cynthia: Alright it’s true.

Natalie: Exactly.

Traci: It’s true.

Natalie: Different shapes for different sizes and for different aroma clouds. It all kind of comes together that way. It doesn’t tinge the taste of the wine but it enhances our ability to smell and taste it.

Melissa: Okay, last but not least the white wine glass.

Natalie: Yes.

Melissa: Why is this is a Yea or a Nay for dessert wine?

Natalie: Yes, it’s a close cousin to the dessert wine.

Melissa: Yes.

Natalie: But you’ll notice the dessert wine is more open because this is highly aromatic.

Melissa: So hold on a second, I’m looking at the bottom; you see the glass with the bottom for the dessert?

Natalie: Yes, it’s tighter.

Melissa: It’s a proper glass, it’s tighter.

Natalie: Right. It’s more of a V-shape.

Melissa: And this is wider.

Natalie: Yes, so it’s letting all those aromas go at the top whereas this is more for a white that’s not as aromatic, but you still want that smaller glass.

Melissa: Okay.

Natalie: Because you don’t want to look stingy either.

Melissa: Yes, no kidding.

Natalie: There you go, here’s your ounce of port.

Melissa: Well there it is ladies ,cheers! Natalie cheers!

Natalie: Cheers!

Traci & Lainey: Cheers!

Melissa: Always!

Natalie: Alright.



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