Let’s Talk about wine Physics, Baby!
You may have read that headline and groaned. Trust me, I know physics isn’t the sexiest topic and something many of you hoped to have left behind in high school. But, if you’ve ever wondered why wine glasses are so expensive (ahem, Riedel) and why you shouldn’t just pull out a red solo cup, the answer is: physics.
My sophomore year of undergrad, I attend a magnificent seminar where Georg Riedel, himself, came to talk about his wine glasses. And believe me, I also had the mentality of, ‘what’s the big deal? It’s only an aesthetics thing, right? It hurt a little to realize how massively wrong I was. Physics is used to enhance the best properties of a single variety or blend and, therefore, enhance the tasting experience. So, what’s the big deal with the crazy shaped varieties? Does wine really taste better in a wine glass? Let’s explore.
Note: I use Riedel as an example because they are the leaders in wine glassware, however, feel free to apply what you learn from this article to any wine glass.
How does the type and shape of a glass change the wine's taste?
Whether you’re browsing a Home Goods or a Sur La Table, there’s an aisle dedicated to glassware where you’ll find wine glasses in all shapes and sizes. As with kitchen glassware, your first instinct might be that it’s another aesthetic choice to blend the functional and artistic dynamics of your home.
However, when making wine glasses, Riedel uses a team of winemakers and sommeliers. Other companies may not have this luxury or interest, so how does that change the tasting experience you may wonder?
3 Factors for Wine Tasting Glasses
The three factors we need to remember are size, shape, and diameter. We need to think about how these three factors allow for space for oxygen, how your nose and face are positioned, and how the wine will hit your mouth. When wine reacts with oxygen, this allows for certain aromatic compounds to be better released.
Size & Shape:
The size and shape of the ‘bowl’ of the glass indicates how well these aromas will be held in the glass. Then, you want to be able to best smell what’s happening in these compounds.
For white wines and red wines this differs which is why white wine glasses are often smaller than red wine glasses. A smaller wine glass delivers closer proximity to the nose while a larger glass delivers aroma compounds while mitigating the burn of ethanol, which red wines tend to have a higher concentration of.
As the wine hits your mouth, a greater diameter can allow wine to hit your tastebuds more smoothly. This is why we ‘sip’ Champagne from flutes – despite what you might say, sparkling is not a very "chuggable" wine.
In terms of material, some materials, like plastic, absorb taste while others can be tasted in the drink, like metallic glassware. Glasses made from, well, glass are the most neutral and will not drastically affect tasting sensations.
Does this mean I need to buy all new wine glasses, now?
No way. I still drink wine out of mason jars most days – I’m on a budget! At the end of the day, an excellent wine is an excellent wine. All this means is that there is a perfect glass match out there that properly enhances said excellent wine’s best properties.
Drinking wine out of a mason jar is just like buying a pair of pants in size large. I’m a medium, so a size down would look way better on me, but I can just throw a belt on these large pants and it does the job! So, odd comparison aside, don’t worry too much about your glassware collection. But remember, containers or glassware made of glass will not alter your wine tasting experience like drinking out of plastic or metal might!
Try it at home!
Grab your latest Gold Medal Wine Club wines and conduct your own experiment if you want to test this out for yourself!
Gather a variety of glasses around your home of different shapes and materials.
Second, fill* them all with water and see if you notice any difference in taste and take notes – this sharpens your senses. How does material affect the taste of “purity”?
Then, empty your glasses and pour yourself some wine, I recommend at least two different wines, one white and one red (you can find a few selections in our online Wine Store!)
Go down the line, and I encourage you to have a palette cleanser to smell or taste in between each glass so you’re starting fresh each time.
*Remember not to fill any of your glasses to the top. Headspace between the liquid and the rim of the glass are important for holding aromatic compounds – what you smell!
Author Bio: Samantha is a recent graduate of University of California, Davis with a BS in Viticulture and Enology. She is experienced in the laboratory and technical sides of winemaking and loves writing about wine when she’s not working a harvest. She is passionate about traveling the world and sharing her experiences with others!