In Maryland I stopped to lunch in a country style restaurant. Tables were covered with red and white checked gingham with Tiffany style lamps hanging low over them.
Food was wholesome and I ordered a glass of wine. It came in a preserving jar, part of the country theme of the restaurant chain. The square jar was made of thick glass and had a screw thread around the top which made it most unpleasant to put to the lips and I asked the waiter if he could find me a proper wine or water glass.
The wine was poured into a standard glass and I enjoyed it more. But the wine hadn’t changed, just the container from which I drank it.
Many wine drinkers feel the glass they use is an important factor in enjoyment of wine. There are companies, such as Riedel, that go further and design glasses made especially for different grape varieties. The idea is that the shape will deliver the wine onto the mouth’s appropriate taste sensors. But the concept that people have consistent positioning of taste buds is controversial and not widely accepted.
Some pundits are confident that a wine can only show its capabilities when drunk from an appropriate glass. If true this means that a critic’s review of a wine is valueless unless they disclose the brand and model of the wine glass that they were using. And for you to experience the wine in the same way you’d need to use the same glass.
To provide a level playing field when tasting wine in competitions the International Standards Organisation designed an ‘ideal’ tasting glass in 1977, ISO specification ISO 3591. Some people feel these glasses are too small, but it’s not widely known that there are several sizes of ISO glasses and the larger are good.
The best Riedel glasses are beautiful works of art, made from thin crystal glass that rings like a bell. But they are expensive, have to be hand washed and are easily broken.
What I look for in a wine glass is firstly one that will fit in my dishwasher. It should be clear glass with a thin rim – this makes it pleasant to the lips. It needs a wide bowl that tapers – this concentrates the bouquet while the wide bowl exposes wine to the air.
The glass should have a good capacity, but should never be filled much more than a third full. White wine glasses are traditionally smaller than red: this is so the wine doesn’t get too warm in the glass, you just regularly top up from a chilled bottle.
I don’t bother: I use the same glass for red and white. I like a tall narrow flute for Champagne to show the bubbles and a small glass for sweet dessert wine –a small ISO glass is ideal, and is identical to the glass recommended by the Port Institute in Lisbon.
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle.