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Different types glasses wine
Tasting and service

A question of form

Several factors can affect how we perceive a wine's flavour. Three experts tested the effect of different glasses on taste.

Date October 14, 2020
Wine tastingWine tasting

The question

Wine glass makers, and many experts in the wine world, insist that wines need to be paired with the glasses that suit them. Is it really important to serve Riesling in a Riesling glass or a Burgundy in a large balloon glass to best enjoy these wines? Does the shape of the glass really contribute to flavour?

Wine tastersWine tasters

The tasters

Three Cellier collaborators—Véronique Rivest, a world-renowned sommelier and owner of Soif bistro in Gatineau; Kler-Yann Bouteiller, sommelier and teacher at École hôtelière de la Capitale; and Rémy Charest, wine columnist and collaborator at Chacun son vin—were assembled in order to decide the issue.

The test

Two wines, a Finger Lakes Riesling from New York, a white, and a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, a red, where poured into two glasses with different sizes and shapes: a Riesling glass and a Veritas series Bordeaux glass made by Riedel.

three wine expertsthree wine experts

The verdict

For all three experts, the effect of the glass was obvious. The wine stayed the same, but its characteristics presented very differently. For the Riesling, Véronique Rivest found a big contrast between the two glasses. “In the white wine glass, it had a lot more citrus, freshness, citric acid and minerality—very direct, very lively. In a red wine glass, it was a bit more expansive, a bit more peachy, with ripe fruit, a bit less in terms of fruit acids and minerality.”

Also noting differences, Kler-Yann Bouteiller wondered whether the shape of the glass might affect pairings between dishes and wines. “I would put two dishes beside each other, with the same wine in two different glasses, to get two pairings. One would be more salty, a bit more citrus, with the white wine, and the other would be fleshier, a bit more textured, like scallops, with a bit more fat.”

“In the first glass everything is more integrated,” explained Rémy Charest, while emphasizing that the aromas didn’t present themselves in the same order. Véronique Rivest had the same impression, in the mouth, but specified that the acidity seemed to present itself earlier in the smaller glass compared to the larger glass.

In the end, the Riesling glass seemed to suit the white wine better, and the same for the Cabernet, which benefited from a larger glass. “While with the white it seemed to lose a bit of complexity, I found that the larger glass allowed the wine to open up the blackcurrant notes more and to shift towards aromas that were a bit rounder, more chocolatey, a bit spicier,” explained Kler-Yann Bouteiller. “I found that it definitely improved things, even though the alcohol had more presence.”

“In the white wine glass, the herbaceous notes of the Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon came through more, which is not a bad thing, since I appreciate them, while in the second glass, there was more emphasis on fruit, spice, licorice,” added Véronique, who also noted that in the mouth, these differences faded.

The sommelier also wondered about the visual impact of the glass on taste and aroma. “I can’t help but notice a link between how I express these differences and the shape of the glass. We’re talking in terms of being more expansive, larger, more ample, and these are qualities that belong to the glass. I wonder whether there is a psychological link.”

The esthetic experience of the glass has an effect on your state of mind,” adds Kler-Yann. “It influences the tasting. You don’t hold a wine glass in the same way as a beer glass.” In addition to affecting olfactory and taste perceptions, the shape of the glass, its fineness and its ability to diffuse aromas help present the wine to greater advantage.

Conclusions and advice

  • The shape of a glass has an effect on taste: the three experts unanimously agreed there were significant differences both on the nose and in the mouth when the same wine was tasted in two different glasses.
  • In general, a narrower glass will benefit wines that are fresher, with more acidity and minerality, while a larger glass will better suit full-bodied wines that are more generous.
  • It is not necessary to have a different glass for every grape variety, which would be expensive. But having two or three different glass shapes available is ideal for those looking to enjoy a more precise tasting experience.
  • Is it absolutely essential to use the perfect glass for every wine? The experts say no. A standard, tulip-shaped wine glass will produce a perfectly enjoyable tasting experience. “If all you had were small flat-bottomed cups, that would be a problem, but if you only had white wine glasses for a red wine, that’s fine,” states Véronique, laughing.

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