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Are you drinking from the wrong wine glasses? A guide for every type

What's a universal wine glass, anyway?

Varied wine glasses
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Wine drinking is a nuanced experience. Of course, simply pouring a glass and enjoying it on its own or paired with a delicious meal is certainly something we all love to do. But for those who wish to dive a bit deeper, there are endless ways to enjoy it, and there is a world of things to learn about wine. The glass from which wine is enjoyed may not seem like something that plays a major role in the wine-drinking experience, but if you stop to consider how much oxygen and circulation are affected by stemware, the perspective may shift a bit.

A traditional wine glass has four main parts: the base, the stem, the bowl, and the rim. The base – also called the foot – provides stability and holds up the stem, which is where the glass is to be held so that the wine is not affected by the temperature of the drinker’s hands. The bowl is the most important part of the glass, holding the wine itself, and it varies in size depending on the type of wine it has been made for. The rim is the edge of the glass, which the taster feels with their mouth as they enjoy the wine, thus affecting the overall experience as well.

Deciding which glass to use for your wine should depend on a few factors, for not every wine glass is created equal. For certain wines, it’s important to have a larger bowl, which allows for more oxidation. Other wines, however, should be protected from outside air and need a smaller surface area for peak enjoyment. Which one is best for your bottle?

Red wine glasses

Red wine
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Generally larger in both height and bowl size than other wine glasses, the size of red wine glasses allows the wine to breathe. When exposed to more oxygen, wine can open up and develop its flavors better than they would in a smaller-bowled glass.

Full-bodied red wine glasses

Glass of red wine
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Often the tallest of its kind, a full-bodied red wine glass is designed for bolder varietals like merlot or cabernet sauvignon. These glasses are tall with a broad base and a medium to large bowl that often tapers in toward the rim.

The full-bodied red wine glass allows for oxygen to flow and the wine to taste smoother.

Medium-bodied red wine glasses

Red wine on barrels
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Shorter and with a smaller bowl than the full-bodied red wine glass is the medium-bodied version. Designed for wines like Cabernet Franc and Sangiovese, the smaller shape of the opening keeps the wine’s aromas inside the bowl, allowing the drinker closer contact with the wine for optimal enjoyment.

Light-bodied red wine glasses

Red wine being poured into a glass
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The most commonly seen red wine glass, this version has the largest bowl and usually a shorter stem. Created for wines like light Burgundies and Pinot Noirs, this glass provides a large surface area for peak oxidation.

White wine/rosé glasses

White wine
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White wine glasses are much smaller than red wine glasses. Their smaller bowl size allows the drinker to have closer contact with the wine as it hits both the nose and the mouth within the bowl.

Full-bodied white wine glasses

Glass of white wine
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Red wine glasses have the largest bowl shape because red wine is typically fuller in body and complexity than white wine. However, there are certainly bold whites for which a larger bowl and surface area are necessary. Heavily oaked Chardonnays, for example, are quite full-bodied and best enjoyed in this glass. A full-bodied white wine glass has a larger bowl size and, usually, a shorter stem.

Medium to light-bodied white wine glasses

Glass of white wine
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With a smaller bowl and shape that tapers ever-so-slightly near the rim, the medium to light-bodied wine glass generally has a longer stem. Its smaller bowl size decreases the amount of oxygen in the glass, making it easier for the drinker to detect the wine’s unique aromas.

Dessert wine glasses

Dessert wine
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Dessert wine glasses have no real rules or regulations and tend to be more creatively shaped than other wine glass designs. The only real requirement is that these have a considerably smaller bowl size than other glasses due to the suggested serving size of dessert wines. While harder to find, these glasses are often beautiful and great thrift store treasures if you can get your hands on antique designs.

Sparkling wine glasses

Glasses of champagne on a tray
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Flutes

Champagne flutes
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The most common shape when one thinks of a sparkling glass of wine is likely the traditional flute. This slender style of glassware allows the aromas of the wine inside to slip easily into the drinker’s mouth without the interference of extra oxygen in the way. This provides a smoother, longer finish for which sparkling wine is known and enjoyed.

Coupes

Champage in coupe glasses
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Admittedly, more for aesthetics than practicality, the coupe has a short, wide bowl and medium to long stem. While the coupe isn’t really great for sparkling wine due to its inability to retain the bubbles inside, we do love the whimsical, Gatsby-esque look of these beauties.

Universal wine glasses

Red and white wine
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Universal wine glasses – sometimes called all-purpose wine glasses – are an absolute must for those who enjoy just about any wine without a lot of fuss. Larger in bowl size but most similar to white wine glass styles, the universal glass has something for everyone and is a suitable (though not perfect) shape for almost every wine style. So, if you aren’t particularly concerned with having absolutely optimal wine-critiquing abilities – or you’re just short on cabinet space – this wine glass is a great choice.

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Lindsay Parrill
Lindsay is a graduate of California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu, San Francisco, from where she holds a degree in…
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