Glass Half Full

Here we are at the beginning of the holiday season and again we are tasked with gift giving dilemmas. Every year the question arises, “What should I get for the wine lovers in my life?” Picking up a few bottles of their favorite indulgences doesn’t seem heartfelt enough and by now, they undoubtedly have all the Rabbit corkscrews and pocket aerators they could ever possibly need. Alternatively, while every oenophile probably already has stemware, with so many sizes, shapes and types of wine glasses, there is bound to be something that will fill a niche in even the most extensive glassware collection.

The size and shape of a wine glass determine how much surface area of the wine is exposed to the air and subsequently how much of the aroma is released. They also control the temperature of the wine and the flow of the wine onto the tongue. A larger bowl increases the amount of wine exposed to the air and, therefore, the amount of oxidation. This allows intense concentrated reds, especially those higher in tannins but more moderate in acidity, to breathe. So, if the giftee is a high-end Bordeaux fan or loves reserves from Rioja, a wine glass with an oversized bowl is optimal. Conversely, lighter bodied more delicate white wines, particularly those with a higher acidity, will lose their fragrant aromas and warm too quickly when poured into a glass with a wide bowl. For those receivers, go with a taller narrower selection. Additionally, oaked whites or those with more body and lower acidity, like a California Chardonnay, are best expressed in a glass with a medium sized bowl.

Further choices include whether the top of the wine glass’s bowl should be straight, tapered or flared. Straight bowls allow the aromas to escape to the nose unhindered and direct the wine to the midpalate upon entry into the mouth. This is sufficient for the vast majority of standard reds and whites. If, however, a wine has a more delicate bouquet, a tapered bowl will keep aromas in the glass longer to allow them to be enjoyed more thoroughly before dissipating. Aficionados of older vintage reds as well as lighter reds such as Pinot Noirs will appreciate a tapered bowl. Flared bowls are tapered bowls with the addition of directing the wine to the front palate of the mouth. This tones down the acidity while highlighting the fresh flavors of acidic wines and makes a perfect gift for those regularly indulging in elegant Burgundian Pinot Noirs or dry German Rieslings.

An important consideration when investing in stemware is whether or not to splurge for crystal. Crystal is essentially glass with added minerals such as lead monoxide or zinc and magnesium oxide. The benefits of these additions create the characteristic sparkle and allow for the incredible thinness of the glass. Due to the fact that crystal stemware is luxurious and highly regarded, it is likely to be perceived as a good gift choice for one desiring to make a sincere or impressive gesture. However, before committing to crystal it is wise to consider the receiver. Crystal glasses require diligence to keep them in good condition and they are likely to be a poor gift choice for folks who are not very fastidious. The minerals in crystal make the glasses porous, so wine left sitting in a crystal glass overnight or a lingering water spot can permanently stain the facade. Crystal must be hand washed immediately after use with a neutral soap and dried thoroughly with a specific type of cotton cloth known as a flour sack. The maintenance is a labor of love for those who are willing to take on the burden, so it is best to honestly consider the lifestyle of the receiver when choosing crystal or glass.

Lastly, the main purpose of the stem on a wine glass is to prevent the heat of the imbiber’s hand from warming the wine. Secondarily, it also allows the glass to be hung rather than stored on a flat shelf, thereby preventing stale air from building up inside the bowl. Hardcore connoisseurs may scoff, but stemless wine glasses are a good choice for more casual affairs and a nice addition to the stemware collection of folks who entertain frequently.

So if you are searching for gifts for the wine lovers in your life this holiday season, consider giving them some specialized wine glasses perfectly designed for the particular wines they like to drink. It’s fun to taste the same wine from different types of glasses to compare and we can all make good use of a few more wine glasses!

By: MaryJane Baker Vu