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What’s in a glass?

By Debra Meiburg MW

by Debra Meiburg MW

Glasses—and I don’t mean Hong Kong’s ubiquitous reading glasses—alter our perception of sight, aroma and taste.

The finest wine glasses are clear and smooth, showing off a wine’s colour spectrum, so reserve those pretty green or blue glasses for serving water.

Glass shape influences our reception of wine aromas. Large bowls liberate the heady bouquet of powerful red wines, such as cabernet sauvignon or shiraz. The complex, but delicate, aromas of red Burgundy are best displayed in a glass with a wide, balloon-shaped bowl. Slimmer bowls concentrate the fragrances of delicate white wines, such as riesling. Slightly broader bowls are best for rich chardonnays.

Riedel and Spiegelau are two companies that design wine glasses specifically for each wine type. Most of us cannot buy a roomful of glassware, so start with a basic 12-ounce glass with a rounded bowl and narrowed rim, about two inches wide. Whether serving white or red wine, glasses should be one-third full, allowing aromas to evaporate and collect in the remaining airspace.

At the top of the glass, a narrowed rim concentrates aromas for our noses. Splash a cup of wine into a wide mixing bowl and the same amount into a fish bowl. Assuming the fish bowl was emptied and cleaned before filling, which of the two containers offers more aromas?

The arc of the rim also affects our taste impression of the wine. Specific areas of our tongue are more sensitive to tartness, sweetness or bitterness. Whether a glass rim is broad or narrow will affect where the wine first hits our tongue, thus affecting our perception of the wine’s structure.

When it comes to sparkling wines, such as Champagne, height is important. A tall, slender glass showcases the wine’s perlant, or strands of bubbles.

Three common types of sparkling wine glasses are the coupe, flute and tulip. The saucer-shaped coupe is the least desirable glass for sparkling wine. Its flat surface allows the bubbles to escape too quickly in tiny streams. According to popular wine lore, the coupe design was based on Marie Antoinette’s bosom.

The flute is a long, slim glass with a V-shaped bowl. The length of the bowl is an excellent feature, but stay away from flared rims because they permit precious aromas to escape.

The slim, tulip-shaped bowl is the best choice for sparkling wine because its long body and narrowed rim concentrate delicate aromas for the taster.

It takes flaws in the glass surface to release the pretty streams of bubbles. Some glass manufacturers scratch the base of the glass with a diamond to stimulate continuous bubble streams.

Ice wine, Sauternes and Trockenbeerenauslese are white wines served primarily as a dessert. Dessert wines, best served in moderate portions because they are rich, sweet and high in alcohol, should be presented in small white wine glasses.

Fortified wines, such as Port, Madeira and Marsala, have opulent flavou rs and high alcohol content. Use small, narrow glasses to optimize these wine flavors. A wide bowl only emphasizes alcohol aromas.

The stems on glassware are such an important feature that we often refer to glasses as “stemware.” Be sure to hold glasses by the stem. Holding the glass by the bowl will warm the wine and change its character.

When toasting, clink glasses together at the widest point of the bowl, not the rim, as the arched bowl is the strongest part of the glass.

A standard wine bottle serves six glasses of wine at four ounces each. One bottle is plenty of wine for a romantic dinner date. You wouldn’t want to collapse on your glasses—whatever their shapes.

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