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Wine Myths: The Wine Glass

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

Today we start a new series of articles entitled: "Wine myths and reality". They were originally published in the House of Wine, and today, updated, will be published in The purpose of this series is to reveal some myths that have already been established with the authority of ... an axiom, and are difficult to dispute.

Yes, there are many myths surrounding wine, and in all areas related to it. And those of you who do not have a professional or scientific relationship with wine, will be surprised by the number of these myths. Myths that are embraced by experts and the public, even if science has debunked them for many years now.

You will perhaps ask ... why these myths are still believed? Simply, because everyone "benefits" from them: Industries, producers and wine makers who base their entire production on these myths, wine critics because myths give to them the opportunity to "analyze" and "convince", but also consumers because -how to say it-, the "fairy tales" are beautiful and impressive! Imagine the imposing image of a table with 4 crystal wine glasses with different shapes each, one for each different wine or variety (!) in front of each guest, and the sense of "knowledge of the wine" that they impose on the proud host!

In these series of Myths we intend to tell you the truth. Truths that have been scientifically proven. If you want, you can certainly continue to pretend - along with so many others - that you believe in myths, it is your choice. Do not feel bad… we do also sometimes!

The first myth has to do with the glass of wine and its "magical" properties. Some of them are valid, some are not ...

I was of course born with a glass of wine in my hand! My wine training started around the age of 25, and continues ... intensively even today. As every wine lover knows, one never stops learning new things, being always impressed and surprised ...

So a surprise that is usually caused to new friends of wine (but also to the friends of other drinks too) is the effect that can have on our senses the glass in which we drink.

My training started with a test often done by a good friend of mine who unfortunately is no longer with us today, Nontas. So Nontas, -a great wine and beer lover- brought us two glasses full of very cold beer (the test was done at noon on a very hot summer day), one in a narrow stemmed glass with a very thin glass, and the other in a classic thick and wide glass of beer, and asked us to try these two beers and decide which one we liked more. We tasted both beers, and chose according to our tastes ... because the beers were clearly different, one much more peppery than the other, the other with a denser texture than the first ... Of course no one suspected that our friend Nontas served us the SAME beer in both glasses ... the differences - and they were huge - were due solely to the glass!

The glass therefore plays a very important role in highlighting the properties of our drink, especially wine. The size, the diameter, the shape, the height, the thickness of the glass decisively affect our sense in relation to all the "properties" of the wine: aromas, taste, "mouth", "nose". But the color must also stand out through the glass, which means that the ideal wine glass must be made of thin glass or crystal, be completely transparent, colorless and without any design that will prevent or change the true appearance of the wine .

It should also have a "stem", so that the thin glass of the glass bowl does not come into contact with our hand, and probably change the temperature of the wine ... As for the shape of the bowl, here things are ... serious .

But before we move on to the shape of the glass's bowl, let us remember that, until the Industrial Revolution, "ordinary" people - that is, people like you and me - drank their wine in clay, metal or even ... leather glasses, because the glass - absolutely handmade until then - was terribly expensive! I assure you, though, that they also enjoyed their wine ... keep this for the next part of this article ...

So how does the shape affect our perception of wine?

To understand this, we must remember that when we serve wine, it immediately begins to evaporate, and its aromas "come out" to the surface. The degree of evaporation is determined - as you will remember from school physics - by the exhaust surface, which means that a larger surface allows for faster evaporation. But the aromas of the exhaust also have a different "weight": the lighter aromas, those that remind us of flowers or fruits, quickly reach the edge of the glass. Aromas of medium "weight", such as herbal aromas are concentrated in the center of the bowl (calyx), while those of barrel, wood and other "heavy" aromas remain at the base.

So the bowl must have an oval shape, with a narrower opening so that the light aromas are concentrated towards the nose of the person drinking the wine. It should be relatively large to increase the evaporation surface, but at the same time it should be relatively high to allow the wine to swirl or stir. The vortex does two important things: first it increases the evaporation rate (and therefore the perfumes come out better and faster), but it also allows the heavier perfumes to reach high in the calyx, where our ... nose is. And the shape of the glass should allow our nose to be almost inside the cup ....

So imagine the same wine in a narrow and short glass (like those of retsina) and in a tall, wide glass with a stem. In the first case our nose is out of the glass when we drink, the evaporation surface is small, wine can not be stirred because it will spill out of the glass due to the small height ... result: few aromas will reach our nose, and mainly the fruity ones... the wine will therefore be characterized as of low aroma, with slightly fruity aromas. But because taste and smell interact, we will have differences there as well. On the contrary, in the big glass the aromas will be more intense, the heavy aromas will reach - and due also to the vortex we create by swirling the wine - to the rim, our nose will be inside the bowl and therefore all the aromas will be accessible ... well, the feeling it will be that we actually drink some other wine!

And because other aromas must be highlighted differently if the wine is red, white or rosé, the architecture of the glass should be different ... the glass of white is different, the glass of red is different ... the rosé can be drunk in both, depending on its intensity, power and how much "it would like to be red" according to the favorite description of a wine expert friend ....

So far, the ... serious matters, and I would say, the necessary ones

From here on, however, the exaggerations begin ... and these were essentially imposed by a scientifically wrong impression: that our tongue "distinguishes" in different parts of it the sweet, the acidic, the salty or the umami tastes ...

This view, which essentially defined the architecture of wine glasses, overwhelmed for decades wine tasting with "rules", "tasting methods", but also the design of glasses: Claus Josef Riedel was the first to study this "physiology of wine taste" in relation to the shape of the glass, so that, depending on the character of the wine, it reaches -thanks to its shape- other parts of the tongue. Thus, the wine glass industry - in which Riedel excelled and excels, provided us with hundreds of glasses of different shapes ... others for Syrah, others for Cabernet Sauvignion, others for Pinot Noir, even others for Pinot from France, South Africa etc etc ... in short ... CHAOS! An exaggeration that lasted for many years .... an exaggeration that continues even today, when it has been conclusively proven that our poor tongue perceives the flavors in a UNIfied way, on its entire surface .... a myth that continues by the connoisseurs , industry ... and those who are comfortable with perpetuating a mistake. But also from the friends of wine, because the "ritual" of the table with dozens of different glasses, their frequent alternation, adds certainly to the overall enjoyment, reflecting the importance we give to the process of enjoying the wine.

So you do not need these ... dozens of glasses to enjoy wines. You just need a maximum of four types:

A glass for white wine, a glass for red, a glass (perhaps) for sparkling wines - although today sparkling drinks are served in a glass of white wine - and a glass for aromatic or dessert wines... and to be absolutely serious, even the distinction between white and red is not necessary ... red and white may be served in a large, oval glass ... because their difference is supposed to be due to the fact that, with the narrowest glass for white we are forced to lean back when we drink, and as a result the wine reaches the center and back of the tongue, where -supposedly- there are the appropriate "sensors".

Well, it does not matter, let's accept the different glasses of red and white, you sometimes see even useless "rituals" contribute to enjoyment ... let's not forget that the center of enjoyment is in the brain after all, and a wine may taste much better if we drink it in the sunset, with a magnificent view and with a good company, rather drinking it alone at home ...

Conclusion: The shape of the glass affects the evaporation, the emergence of aromas, or even the emergence of specific aroma, and also the taste to the extent that it is associated with aromas. It DOES NOT, though, affects directly the taste due to its position or point of the tongue that will "receive" the wine!

Of course ... if the "myths" play an important role in your life (and who is... immune to. them, after all!) you are certainly free to follow the traditions. You can see all the glasses and choose the ones that best suit your tastes but also your... myths! On the other hand, we constantly repeat that the best wine is the one you like ... to add here respectively, that you can also drink it in any glass you like!

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