While getting ready for a recent holiday celebration, I discovered that I had far fewer wine glasses in my cabinet than I had thought (I am known for my klutzy tendencies).  With several wine enthusiasts coming to my home for dinner, I needed to start shopping for replacement glasses.  What I found was a bewildering array of shapes, sizes and prices, not to mention colors and patterns.  Shopping for stemware can definitely be overwhelming.

If, like me, you must occasionally purchase wine glasses for yourself or as gifts, knowing something about them will help you find stemware that is truly appropriate for the occasion.  Let's begin with some wine glass basics.

Wine Glass Essentials


Wine glasses come in an amazing variety of sizes, colors and patterns, but serious wine tasters know that the best color for wine glasses is no color at all.  Looking at wine through a clear bowl (the part of the wine glass that contains the wine) allows you to see the nuances of color that make each wine unique.  Colors, etched patterns and even crystal facets can distort your view of the wine's color.


The shape of your wine glass also affects your wine tasting experience.  Wine glass manufacturers offer many types of differently-shaped wine glasses.  Wine glasses are typically named after the type of wine for which they are best suited; for example, you can buy chardonnay glasses, sauvignon blanc glasses and champagne glasses.  Each glass has a bowl shaped to accentuate the wine's aromas and guide the wine toward specific taste bud areas on your tongue.

Each type of wine glass also has a specific rim diameter.  This measurement is very important; rim diameter helps to determine how each wine's aromas are concentrated inside the glass.  Rim diameter also helps control the flow of wine into your mouth.

Professor Claus Josef Riedel, of the famous glassmaking family, spent years developing wine glasses that would best enhance the assets of the wines they held.  Riedel's eponymous glassmaking company was the first to create stemware in different shapes and sizes to match the types of wine being served.  The success and popularity of Riedel stemware is part of modern wine tasting history.[1]

The International Standards Organization (ISO) has developed standards for wine tasting glasses[2].  There are four sizes of ISO glasses – 120 milliliters, 210 milliliters, 300 milliliters and 410 milliliters – all with short stems and "egg-shaped" bowls.

While many wine drinkers enjoy using stemless wine glasses, professional wine tasters typically use stemmed glasses.  The stem allows you to hold the glass comfortably, swirl the wine in the bowl and observe the color of the wine.  Holding the glass by its stem can also help to maintain the wine's temperature while you taste it.

Materials and Manufacture

Wine glasses are either hand-blown or machine-made.  While hand-blown crystal is prized by wine professionals, it can also be extremely expensive.  There are now many machine-made wine glasses available that offer a good tasting experience at an affordable price.

Wine glasses are made of lead crystal, lead-free crystal or glass. While lead crystal is the traditional material of choice, lead-free crystal is gaining in popularity.  Riedel, Ravenscroft, Stolzle and Fusion are just a few of the glassmakers that work in lead-free crystal.

Popular White Wine Glasses

The chardonnay glass is very popular with wine drinkers.  Like most white wine glasses, the chardonnay glass is medium -size and has either a slightly tapered, relatively narrow bowl or a wider bowl that tapers inward toward the rim.  Sauvignon blanc wine glasses are quite tall because their stems are very long.  Riesling glasses are tall and fairly narrow.

Sparkling wines and champagnes should be served in flutes, which are wine glasses with longer, narrow bowls that may taper in slightly at the rim.  The longer bowl complements the bubbles and holds in the delicate aromas of sparkling wine.

Of course, there are many other types of white wine glasses on the market.  You can buy wine glasses for every imaginable kind of white wine, from albariño to viognier.  If you are buying your first white wine glasses, choosing a versatile type such as a chardonnay glass will offer you plenty of flexibility.

The Bottom Line

White wine glasses range from inexpensive machine-made pieces to delicate, hand-blown masterpieces.  You can spend as little as $4 on a white wine glass or you can splurge on Riedel's Sommeliers series and buy heirloom-quality wine glasses.  For most of us, the happy medium lies somewhere in between.   


[1] "The History." 2010. Riedel Glas Austria Website.  April 1, 2010. 

[2] "Wine Glasses." October 16, 2003. Sizes.com Website.  April 5, 2010.