Six Quick and Easy Tips for Navigating Restaurant Wine Lists Like a Pro

A woman looking at the wine list in the restaurant Saint Amour in Quebec City, CanadaAlamy

Have you ever been handed a wine list at a restaurant and been completely overwhelmed?

Everyone has been there at some point, and it can be daunting. You’re under pressure to order a tasty wine that everyone will enjoy, but don’t want to pick something that will require a second mortgage.

Here are a handful of quick strategies to help navigate those intimidating and extravagant lists with a bit more ease.

Open with bubbles.

When you sit down and want to really go through the wine list, stall for time by ordering a bottle of bubbles.

Champagne is always a top choice, but there are so many excellent sparkling options typically available at a more accessible price point, particularly Prosecco and Cava. Not only is it a festive way to start any meal, but it allows for some breathing room to properly peruse the wine list and help open up everyone’s appetite.

Want to try something a little further out there? See if the restaurant has a pétillant naturel, or pét-nat, a rustic style of sparkling wine appearing increasingly on lists across the U.S.

Cropped shot of a group of friends hanging out and having champagne
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There are no hard and fast rules on quality vs. price.

You’ll hear a lot of conflicting advice on what to order based on price. Some will tell you to never order the cheapest bottle on the list. Others say that the second-cheapest bottle of wine is what the restaurant wants to unload on unsuspecting customers too self-conscious to order the lowest-price wine.

The truth is, there is no quick cheat that’ll tell you which wine you should buy based on price. Sometimes, the cheapest wine is the owner’s favorite, and the restaurant gets a case discount. Or the most expensive wine is something the restaurant barely breaks even on, but keeps it around for prestige and to add to the overall experience.

What you can be sure of is that most beverage directors strive to make all the wines on their list ones that they enjoyed tasting, and deal with the price points later.

Take the road less traveled. 

 If you go into a steakhouse and look to a bottle of Napa Cab or Bordeaux, you are almost guaranteed to pay top dollar for a wine that usually has the highest markup in the joint. The same goes for a Barolo or Amarone at a five-star Italian restaurant. That’s because these are the types of bottles most diners associate with these sorts of restaurants.

However, if you look for Merlot or Zinfandel from Sonoma at that same steakhouse, you’ll likely find an outstanding wine with less sticker shock. A Valpolicella Superiore can offer the same value at your favorite Italian spot and would be a welcome alternative to Amarone. Restaurants tend to mark these bottles up less to entice diners to try their favorite “value wines.”

Double the retail price of the wine for comparison.

Most restaurants will charge a flat percentage markup on wine based on its cost. But some may play around with the prices where they think they can maximize profit.

If you are considering a wine you’re familiar with, a good rule of thumb is to double what you would pay in a local wine shop. That will give you a fair market assessment of restaurant pricing, though you should expect a bit more at higher-end restaurants.

If a wine you like is being offered at less than double its retail price, you’ve found a deal.

Group of coworkers having a dinner after job
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Ask questions.

It’s amazing how many bargains can be found just by striking up a conversation with the sommelier or your server. Tell them what wines you’ve enjoyed in the past and why. If they ask followup questions, they’re trying to get a sense of your taste, not quiz you.

Besides, getting to know your wine professional has all sorts of side benefits. Maybe the restaurant has one bottle left of an older vintage that they need to clear out to make room for a new wine. Or perhaps there are a few wines not even on the list that just arrived. Maybe a sales rep dropped off some sample bottles about which the sommelier would like opinions.

Having a conversation with the staff about your wine preferences and budget could lead to a stellar value selection.

Wine preference outweighs wine pairing.

It’s easy to get hung up on trying to find the perfect pairing, and wine culture places such emphasis on the “right” things to eat and drink together. But if you know that you don’t like Rhône wines and your server or sommelier recommends a Gigondas as the best pairing for your dish, chances are that you’ll be disappointed.

Be sure to order a wine that you know you will enjoy regardless of the food. After all, you’re the one paying the bill, right?

How to Understand (Almost) Everything on a Wine Label

How to Understand (Almost) Everything on a Wine Label

Classic examples of Old World and New World wine labels / Left photo: Meg Baggott; Right photo: Sara Littlejohn

Classic examples of Old World and New World wine labels / Left photo: Meg Baggott; Right photo: Sara Littlejohn

 

Have you ever looked at a bottle of ChiantiChâteauneuf-du-PapeTaurasi or Alentejo and wondered exactly what’s inside? Or how about when you come across a Rhône-style red blend from California? Wine labels can offer up a lot of information about what’s inside—that is if you can decode the cryptic language on the label.

But fear not. There are some basic formulas that can help you understand the rather confusing and sometimes smug words on wine labels.

How to Read a Wine Label

The first thing to determine is if the wine is from the Old World (Europe, the Mediterranean, parts of Western Asia) or New World (any other wine-producing region). While all labels will include basic facts like region, producer, alcohol by volume (abv) and vintage (unless nonvintage), there are some notable distinctions.

Here are the differences between what you may find on labels from these two categories.

Red wine from Cote de Bordeaux
Photo by Meg Baggott

Old World Wine Labels

The vast majority of Old World wines will typically only indicate regions and aging classifications on the front label, but not grape varieties.

For example, red Riojas are produced typically from Tempranillo grapes, possibly with Graciano, Garnacha and perhaps Mazuelo. (And how could anyone not know that Mazuelo is the name for Carignan in Rioja). The problem is you’d be hard-pressed to find a Rioja that lists any of these grapes on the front label, if at all. The same goes for Chianti (made from Sangiovese), Burgundy (Pinot Noir for red wines and Chardonnay for white), Bordeaux and many others.

The main reason for these labeling practices is that these wines are more about a regional style than the grapes themselves. The same grape can show different characteristics based on climate, soil and terroir. So, while it may seem like producers are trying to confuse you by not naming the grapes on their bottles, it’s actually quite the opposite.

In recent years, some Old World producers have begun to name their wine’s grapes on the back labels, or even occasionally on the front. The caveat is that you’re expected to know what grapes can be (and are allowed to be) used in specific regions. That’s where a hint of Old World presumption can kick in.

Another characteristic of an Old World label is it may offer guidelines to aging. Unlike many New World wine labels, terms like “Reserva” (or “Riserva” in Italy) and “Gran Reserva” have real meaning based on the region they’re from.

However, each region’s regulations for age classifications can have almost identical names, but be very different. For example, if a bottle of red Rioja has Reserva on the label, that means it has been aged for a minimum of 36 months, with at least 12 months in oak.

However, a bottle of Chianti with Riserva on the label has spent at least 24 months in oak, with another three months in bottle. Additionally, a Brunello di Montalcino with Riserva on the label has spent five years aging after harvest, with at least two of those years spent in oak and six months in bottle. This is compared to the standard four total years (two in oak and four months in bottle) for non-Riserva Brunello.

German Riesling Labels
Photo by Matthew Dimas

The most confusing wine labels of them all might be German, which contain a multitude of technical information and German-language terms like “Trockenbeerenauslese,” “Bernkasteler Badstube” and “Grosses Gewächs.” One glance and you may feel you need to be a Mensa member to ever understand these descriptions.

Here are a few tricks to help you decode German labels:

German Wine Quick Tips

German labels include ripeness levels.

For Prädikatswein, a designation that denotes superior quality wines, the levels range from the least ripe (Kabinett) to the ripest (Trockenbeerenauslese) and everything in between (Spätlese, Auslese and Beerenauslese). The ripeness levels can help indicate the sweetness level of the final wine. There may also be specific sweetness levels noted on German wine labels, which include Trocken (dry), Halbtrocken (half-dry/off-dry) and Eiswein (sweet dessert wine made from frozen grapes). You may also see Feinherb stated (another term to represent off-dry wines). And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

When you see two names together, particularly if the first name ends with an ‘er,’ it denotes a subregion and vineyard.

So, Bernkasteler Badstube means the wine is from the Badstube vineyard, located within the Bernkastel subregion.

German wines have their own version of Crus, like Bordeaux or Burgundy.

Grosses Gewächs on a label refers to a “great growth” and a wine of the highest quality, where Grosse Lage and Erstes Lage refer to grand cru and premier cru, respectively.

From left to right; Kay Brothers 2017 Basket Pressed Amery Vineyard Grenache (McLaren Vale); d’Arenberg 2014 The Derelict Vineyard Grenache (McLaren Vale); Yalumba 2016 Old Bush Vine Gre­nache (Barossa Valley); and Koerner 2018 Gullyview Vineyard Cannonau Grenache (Clare Valley)
Photo by Sara Littlejohn

New World Wine Labels

With wines from the U.S., South America, Oceania and most other non-European countries, the grape variety almost always appears on the label.

Originally, New World wine labels focused less on where the grapes were grown because they were basically all unknown wine regions. Rather, they highlighted grapes to link the wines to iconic European regions. A Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot could be associated with Bordeaux, while a Chardonnay could be compared to Burgundy.

This also occurred because, unlike their Old World counterparts, the style of the wine focused more on the grape’s expression than the region, though this has certainly changed over time. Now, many non-European regions are home to some of the finest vineyards in the world.

New World wine labels tend to be fairly straightforward. More often than not, they provide the grapes, region, subregion and even a description of the wine’s aromas and flavors, usually on the back.

However, there are certainly exceptions to this rule. Take one of the most popular wines in the U.S. right now, The Prisoner. That name is literally all you’ll find on the front label, while the back label states simply that it’s a “red wine” from Napa Valley. These wines, like some Old World counterparts, count on the prestige of their name communicating all a wine connoisseur needs to know.

Certain New World wines may also be deemed a Rhône-style red blend or a super Tuscan-style wine. Again, you have to know the grapes used in the historic European regions to understand what’s in the bottle. Typically, Rhône-style red blends from California are a combination of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvèdre other grapes permitted in France’s Rhône Valley.

Keep in mind that with New World labels, terms like “Reserve,” “Special” and “Selection” don’t have any regulatory minimums in terms of aging or vineyard location. They are basically marketing terms meant to imply a higher-quality bottling, but they can be slapped on any label and offer no guarantee.

The only term that really has legal meaning in the U.S. is “Meritage,” the combination of “merit” and “heritage.” A number of California winemakers banded together in the late 1980s to form the Meritage Association (now Meritage Alliance) and created this classification for Bordeaux-style blends produced by member wineries, intended as a designation of quality. These wines must be a blend of two or more of the red Bordeaux varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet FrancMalbec, Merlot, Petit Verdot and the rarer St. Macaire, Gros Verdot and Carmenère. They can’t have more than 90% of any single variety. For white Meritage, the blend must include at least two of the three Bordeaux white grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle.

There’s a lot to learn from wine labels—so long as you know where to look. Keep these tricks in mind and you’ll be headed in the right direction.

Published on January 21, 2020

How To Chill Down A Bottle of Wine… and Fast!

Friends are just arriving to your home and you forgot to put those refreshing whites in the fridge, what to do?? Don’t sweat it, we have the quickest and most effective solutions to chill those white wines for you.

Let’s get this out of the way first… there is no magic way to chill your white wine to proper serving temperature in a matter of a few minutes. There, I said it. With that out of the way, there are legitimate ways to increase the rate at which wine cools down. After endless hours of testing and examination, here is what rendered the best overall results.

Ice & Saltwater in a Bucket – This is the best, and safest, solution to cool your wine bottle in a jif. Place your bottle(s) in a metal bucket, or even a lobster pot, with some space between the bottles if you are cooling down more than one. Then fill the bucket with ice so it reaches about half way up the bottles. Next, pour in a saltwater solution so it goes up to bottlenecks without being fully submerged. The salt lowers the freezing point of water which again, can save precious minutes in getting those white wines chilled down to proper serving temps.

* Additional Tip – Give it a stir! The more liquid in the bottle that comes in closer contact with the ice water the quicker that wine will chill out.

Wrap it and Freeze It – Popping a bottle in the freezer is the way the majority of wine drinkers chill down wine fast, mostly because it works. However if you grab a few paper towels, or a cheese cloth, and run them under cold water and wrap them around the bottle before you place it in the freezer, it can lower the cooling time. Just be sure to tell Alexa to set a timer for 15 minutes, as if you leave it in there too long you could come back to a bottle with a cork popped out and one messy freezer.

Rock It – If you don’t need to chill down the entire bottle and can work with a by the glass solution then arctic rocks, or granite chilling stones, may be the quickest way to cool things down. Just pull a few out of your freezer and drop them (carefully) into your glass. They will take the wine temps down in a minute or less and won’t dilute your wine like ice or potentially impart any flavors like the frozen grape method. Once the wine comes down to your desired temp just remove the rocks with a spoon and enjoy a perfectly chilled glass of your favorite summer white!

Learn the Five S’s of Wine Tasting

Don’t be intimidated by all of those fancy wine descriptors or the swishing and swooshing sounds that the pros make while they taste. To evaluate wine, it all comes down to the “five S’s.”

Illustration by Ryan McAmis

 

 

Illustration of man with glasses looking at wine
Evaluating the wine’s visual qualities / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

See. Similar to a psychic who gazes into a crystal ball, inspecting wine in the glass can help predict much of what’s to come on the nose and palate. The color, depth and intensity of a wine can offer a glimpse into its age, concentration, body and overall style.

Hint: white wines gain color as they age, while red wines lose color.

Illustration of a couple swirling red and white wine
It’s all in the wrist / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

Swirl. Swirling is integral to aerate the wine and allow oxygen to “open it up.” This seductive art reveals a wine’s complexities, and it will raise intensity in most young, opulent bottlings as well as those aged beauties. Better yet, when done properly, it will wow and potentially hypnotize those around you.

Illustration of a man evaluating a white wine's aroma
Technique that’s right on the nose / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

Sniff/Smell. Don’t be afraid to shove your entire nose right into the glass. Wines with medium to pronounced intensity shouldn’t need such a deep dive, but others may be a little bashful at first. In these cases, revert back to Step No. 2 and swirl some more. Aroma is usually where you hear all those cool, eccentric wine termslike “cat pee,” “wet dog” and “grilled watermelon.”

Illustration of standing woman sipping red wine
A matter of good taste / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

Sip. It takes a while to actually taste a wine during the examination process, but it’s often well worth the wait. Plus, all the prior steps should impart a pretty good idea of how the wine should come across on the palate.

When pros taste wine, you may notice some pretty off-putting and downright disgusting sounds, but there are reasons for it. The swishing, swooshing and gulping ensures that the wine hits all parts of the tongue and mouth. Thus, the taster can gauge sweetness, acidity, bitterness, tannins and identify the overall mouthfeel. Sucking in air allows for further aeration on the palate, and it helps volatile components be sensed by the olfactory system to tap in to all the characteristics of the wine.

Here, you look for primary characteristics (fruit, floral and spice), secondary characteristics (oak and fermentation-related flavors) and tertiary character (those that result from bottle aging, like mushroom, tobacco and nuttiness), depending on the age of the wine.

Illustration of couple savoring wine after sipping
Don’t forget to enjoy / Illustration by Ryan McAmis

Savor. Here’s where the finish comes into play. You want to savor the final essence of a wine. Here, you not only look for length, but balance of fruit, acidity, tannin and texture. When a wine leaves you with an overwhelming desire for another sip, you know you’ve found a winner.

Final tip

If a young wine has a far superior finish than its taste on the palate, it probably needs a bit of aeration or even a little more time in the cellar.

Published on April 15, 2019
TOPICS:Wine Basics
About the Author
MARSHALL TILDEN III

From his first sips of wicker basket Chianti at his grandfather’s dinner table to a 1986 Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, Tilden knew that there was something magical about wine. He earned his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators. Having been with Wine Enthusiast catalog since 2005, when he is not writing about wine he also runs the wine storage division and is head of W.E.’s in-house education program.

How to Know Who is Wine Worthy?

 

When to Open That Special Bottle 

(as featured in Wine Enthsuiast)
You know the bottles. They’ve been sitting in your wine fridge for a few years now, waiting for the perfect night and the perfect audience.

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It’s always tempting to open up those special bottles when in good company of family and friends, particularly when a wonderfully delectable dish is included. However, deciding when to pull gems from the cellar can be one of the most agonizing decisions to make—especially if you have already had a glass or two and are being egged on by your pals.

Even though you may love the people surrounding you, are they truly going to appreciate what you are about to open? Has everyone already had too many glasses pass their palate to accurately assess the true quality of your potentially stellar selection? Are there simply too many people for anyone to get more than a drop or two of this high quality, highly-anticipated juice? These are the questions that need to be addressed and answered, under potentially stressful time constraints, before you pop open that vintage bottle you’ve been saving for just the right moment.

Here are a few rules of thumb to help guide you into making the right wine service decision, and avoiding the regret of opening something spectacular you later wish you hadn’t.

The smaller the group, the better.

When there are too many people, inevitably someone will not get a chance to taste the opened bottle and you will probably hear about it for months to come. Generally speaking for a single standard bottle, if there are any more than six people, you may want to save it for a more intimate gathering.

Know your audience.

If more than half of the group are really going to appreciate and enjoy something special, then pop the cork. Who knows, you may enlighten someone with an epiphany wine experience.

Keep food pairing in mind.

Having the perfect food pairing may not be totally necessary for the enjoyment of a high-quality bottle. However, having a terrible pairing, like a wonderfully aged Bordeaux with oysters, can certainly hinder a potentially memorable wine drinking experience.

Do it early in the night.

Taste buds tend to get a little tired as an evening of wine tasting progresses, rendering that glorious bottle mundane if it’s not one of the first poured. Plus, the more that your crew tends to consume, the less likely they are to get properly geeky about all of the intricacies of something that deserves a little more attention.

Be selfish.

Sometimes you just want to open a phenomenal wine because you feel like it. In those cases, forget about any of these suggestions and just crack it open! Sometimes life is too short to not drink your best wine.

Published on December 20, 2018
About the Author
MARSHALL TILDEN III

From his first sips of wicker basket Chianti at his grandfather’s dinner table to a 1986 Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, Tilden knew that there was something magical about wine. He earned his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators. Having been with Wine Enthusiast catalog since 2005, when he is not writing about wine he also runs the wine storage division and is head of W.E.’s in-house education program.

Wine Pairing Tips for the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes

Now that the Christmas shopping frenzy starts to settle down, it’s time to focus on the most important parts of the holiday season… family, food and wine! My family partakes in the Feast of the Seven Fishes dinner, and as of late we use a lot of different seafood styles throughout the meal. But that is the beauty of this fish feast… there are no steadfast rules of what you HAVE to cook which gives the chef a true sense of freedom and creativity. But it also makes pairing the right wines a little tricky.

To give exact wine pairings is difficult, as there are dozens of different ways to prepare each of type of seafood. It is more about the consistency and texture of the fish and the sauces. For example, an appetizer of raw oysters and clams will covet a far different wine than clams casino or fried oysters. Below are some easy and general wine pairings for various styles of seafood that you may serve for your seven fishes feast, along with some specific wine recommendations.

RAW/CHILLED SEAFOOD:

The general rule of thumb is the lighter the dish, the lighter the wine.  I like to go with Sancerre for this paring. The flinty minerality in these high acid, citrus fruit based wines seem to bring out all the lively flavors and freshness in any chilled seafood dish. Domaine Jean-Paul Balland wines offer a wonderful expression of Loire Sauvignon Blanc and at around $20 the base Sancerre is a great value. Pascal Jolivet is also a solid option and is usually under $20 a bottle. A dry, high acid Finger Lakes Riesling will also work with all those raw bar goodies.  Any of the selections from Herman J. Wiemer (particularly the Reserve Dry Riesling) are sure to please the palate. Pinot Grigio is a popular light white wine for this part of the meal, but quite frankly unless it is REALLY good, it’s a little too neutral. But if PG is your go to, try and grab one from the Collio region…Fiegl always produces a solid offering.

BAKED/FRIED SEAFOOD:

For dishes like baked cod or seared scallops, you still want to keep it light but with a bit more body than your typical PG or SB.  Chablis is a reliable option, as these unoaked wines made from Chardonnay have all the endearing qualities we love about Chard, but without the smoke and wood influence. Simmonet-Febvre is consistently tasty and usually can be found for around $20 a bottle. Albarino can also work out quite well here, as all that minerality and stone fruit balance against most baked seafood recipes. The As Laxas is stunning, and a great value under $25.

Image result for seared scallops

If your fish is getting fried, you’re gonna have to step up to some bigger whites like those Burgundies or California Chards, and here is when you can start getting into the reds. The thicker and heavier the batter, the bolder you can go on the wine. Lighter Chianti Classicos and Pinot work for a delicate sautéed dish, but if you are going with the deep fryer don’t be afraid to pull out a Zin or Syrah, especially if you are cooking up something with a little spice in it. The Mullineux Syrah from Swartland, South Africa is a fantastic option, not just for this meal but for ANY meal! It’s around $30 a bottle which may not be cheap, but drinks like something twice the price.

SEAFOOD WITH PASTA:

For openers, make sure you use the same color wine as you do for the sauce.    For 2015 Pieropan Soave Classico, Veneto, Italy (750ml)white sauces, like linguine with white clam sauce, you can still use the same PG or SB as you served for the raw/chilled seafood. But I like to step up the Italian white game for these dishes and go with a quality Soave (made from the Gargenega grape) or even a Fiano d’Avellino. Pieropan makes a phenomenal Soave called La Rocca, but it ain’t cheap at about $35-40.  Feudi di San Gregorio produces a lovely Fiano and is a screaming value for under $20.

 

Red sauce = red wine… preferably something  a little high on the acid scale. Tomato sauce is high in acid so you want a wine that can match up to it allowing the food and wine Image result for shrimp calamari fra diavolochoice to complement one another. My mom makes a mean shrimp and calamari fra diavolo which is always a Christmas tradition for our feast. I love to pair this up with a quality Barolo or Chianti Classico Riserva. Monsanto CCR for around $20-25 is pretty tough to beat, but the Marchese Antinori CCR for  $40-50 may be my all-time favorite… particularly the 2007 vintage. As far as Barolo, the 2012 Fontanafredda Seralunga D’alba is drinking like a champ right now, and for under $40 is about a good a deal you can get in the Barolo world.

HEARTY SEAFOOD:

This is also a sauce driven pairing in terms white or red wine, but because lobster, king crab, swordfish, etc. can be quite meaty and weighted you can go red for both sauce options. This is about the only time I prefer an oaky, buttery Chard when it is paired broiled lobster and a white wine/butter based sauce. But it can’t be over the top in terms of oak aging (as many of the Cali Chards can be) as the acidity and fruit have to stay in balance. Fox Run in the Finger Lakes makes a stellar Reserve Chard for under $20, and I simply love the Domaine Ferret Pouilly Fuisse. It may carry a somewhat hefty $40 price tag, but is flat out tasty juice.

If your seafood finds itself  in a sea of marina sauce, you can stick with the same red options from the pasta course. However, if you are planning to open up some big dog reds for Christmas Eve, this is the time to do it. A Super Tuscan or Brunello  di Montalcino would be the traditional pairings, but if you have been dying to 2015 PRIDE MERLOT 750MLbreak open one of your aged Bordeaux or Napa gems, this is the time to do it. Renieri and Il Poggione are two of my favorite Brunello producers by far, and if you are digging for a hefty Napa Red, the Pride Merlot is a wonderful option here. Big, classic Napa fruit but with great acidity and super polished tannins  make it an ideal food wine.

Whatever you do… make sure to open something special in the good company of family and friends this Christmas, as that is always the BEST pairing of the season.

 

How to Select the Right Wine Glass

As featured on Wine Enthusiast  How To Select the Right Wine Glass

There are just as many wine glasses shapes out there as there are wines. Here are some hints on how to select the right glass to enhance your pour.

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Over the last decade or so, an abundance of wine glass shapes have hit the scene that range from basic and inexpensive to elaborate and exorbitant. While there are still variety-specific options for stemware (Cabernet Sauvignon/BordeauxPinot Noir/BurgundyChardonnay, etc.), universal glasses seek to become the perfect choice for every wine style.

Size Matters

Whether your wine is red, white, rosé, sparkling or fortified, aromas play a pivotal role in its overall character. The smaller the bowl, the harder it is for all of those aromas to escape. Larger bowls allow for more oxygen to come in contact with the wine. They also lend themselves towards an easier swirl, which not only looks cool, when executed properly, will aerate the wine and help it open up.

Variety Specific vs. Simple Red or White

Over the last century, glasses have been designed for just about every major grape variety. Each wine style has specific characters in terms of acidity, fruit expression, tannin and alcohol, and the different glass shapes intensify or mellow those attributes. If your goal is to build a stellar collection, this is a fun route to travel. However, you can stick with a standard Cabernet, or red, wine glass for all red wines, and a Chardonnay glass for white wines, and not lose out on the intricacies of the wine. If you seek variety-specific glasses, here’s the nitty gritty for those stems.

image of eight different wine glass shapes
Illustration by Julia Lea

Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux

Your traditional red wine glass. Cabs and Bordeaux tend to be high in alcohol and tannin. A larger bowl with more height creates more distance between the wine and the drinker, causing ethanol to dissipate on the nose and allowing more oxygen to encourage tannins to soften.

Syrah/Shiraz

Slightly taller than the Cab glass and with a slight taper at the top, this glass is designed to focus the fruit and allow plenty of aeration to mellow tannins in these massive red wines.

Pinot Noir/Burgundy

The extremely wide bowl and tapered rim allows plenty of aeration, concentrates delicate aromas and showcases the bright, rich fruit.

Chardonnay/Viognier

Your traditional white wine glass. It’s meant for young, fresh wines, as the slightly narrow rim concentrates the nose of highly aromatic white wines. The smaller bowl size also keeps white wine colder than the large bowls used for reds.

White Burgundy

Similar in shape to the Pinot Noir glass just smaller in scale, the wide bowl and narrow rim concentrates aromas and achieves maximum aeration on creamy white wines to reveal subtle complexities and offset rich fruit concentration. This glass is often confused with the Chardonnay glass.

Sparkling

The Champagne flute is all about the bubbles. It keeps the fruit and potential yeasty aromas focused with its narrow design, but also allows the effervescence to remain fresh and flow longer.

Fortified

These wines are higher in alcohol than still bottlings. A smaller bowl reduces alcohol evaporation and highlights their rich fruit and complex aromas.

Wine glasses on an orange background
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Stemless vs. Stems

While stemless glasses can be excellent options for everyday enjoyment, they may not be the best option for sipping higher-quality wines. They force users to grasp its bowl, rather than a stem or base, causing the wine’s temperature to rise due to heat from the hand. It’s not a huge disaster for reds, but can be for white wines. Fingerprints and smudge marks are also inevitable with stemless glassware.

Thin is In

The latest trend in stemware is a super-light, thin stem and lip of the glass. These elegant collections, like Zalto and Zenology, can feel like you’re barely holding a glass at all. Tasting rooms and top wine restaurants offer their finest wines in this style of glassware. However, they are as delicate as they are refined. If broken wine glasses are an epidemic in your home, you may need something a little more substantial, like Riedel or Fusion.

Ditch the Flute

Sparkling wine, particularly Prosecco, is now consumed more than ever. But wine lovers enjoy the aromas that pop out of the glass, which can be muted with the traditional, narrow Champagne flute. Though to toast with a flute is always popular, a white wine or universal glass is often the better option. If you search for a happy middle ground, a coupe or tulip-shaped Champagne glass allows bubbles to flow a bit longer than the typical wine glass, which enable more of the intense aromas to shine.

One Glass For All

If you don’t want to choose which glass goes with which wine, then the universal glass is the way to go. Sized somewhere in between a Chardonnay and a smaller red glass, it’s the most versatile option to enjoy all of your favorite wines, including sparkling! Growing in popularity, just about every glass collection offers a universal option.

Published on October 30, 2018
About the Author
MARSHALL TILDEN III

From his first sips of wicker basket Chianti at his grandfather’s dinner table to a 1986 Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, Tilden knew that there was something magical about wine. He earned his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators. Having been with Wine Enthusiast catalog since 2005, when he is not writing about wine he also runs the wine storage division and is head of W.E.’s in-house education program.