Written by: Tim Edison

Updated: May 10, 2023

Red Wine Glass vs White Wine Glass [Key Differences]

Why Are Wine Glasses Different For White And Red Wine?

If you're new to wine you might be wondering what the fuss is all about when it comes to different wine glasses.

Wine is wine, why should the shape of the glass matter?

Why are wine glasses different for white and red wine?

Why All the Different Wine Glasses?

It's a bit of a controversial story actually. One that a lot of people get wrong. Here's what happened.

In 1973, the famous Riedel glassware company in Australia devised a clever marketing plan.

They invented the Riedel Sommelier Series of wine glasses.

Claus J. Riedel worked with experienced wine tasters to develop a series of 10 specifically different glasses that were said to showcase wines with "...more depth and better balance than when served in generic glasses." 

They proposed that the differently shaped glasses were tailor made to pick up every aroma and direct the wine to the most preferable part of the mouth to get the best taste.

Riedel used a 'Tongue Map' to show how the glasses would benefit the taste receptors in certain parts of your tongue.

The ten glasses were said to be perfectly designed to match certain types of wine.

The Riedel Sommelier Series quickly became an incredibly successful glassware release with huge sales worldwide.

However, a 2013 issue of Gourmet magazine poured scorn on Riedel's claims.

First to take a swipe was Dr. Linda Bartoshuk of Yale University.

She countered that, "There isn’t any ‘tongue map.’ ”

She continues to say, “Your brain doesn’t care where taste is coming from in your mouth,”

Dr. Bartoshuk isn't one to be trifled with when it comes to debating taste and the tongue. She has lots of published, peer reviewed research on the subject.

But, Dr Bartoshuk wasn't the only skeptic uncovered in the Gourmet article. 

It goes on to detail two studies where they challenged Riedel's claims. Both studies found no perceivable benefit to drinking from differently shaped glasses.

So it seems there's no need for ten different glasses anyway (there's definitely a role for a few different shapes as we'll see later). It was all a clever marketing plan. And congratulations to him, he sold the whole world! For a time anyway.

The Parts of a Wine Glass

  • The foot:  It is the flat bottom part that helps the glass to stay upright.
  • The stem: It is the supporting part that enables you to hold your wine without transmitting any heat from your hands to the wine. It also helps avoid dirtying the glass with oil or food particles after a meal which blocks the visual enjoyment.
  • The bowl: This is an essential part of a wine glass. It is the part that holds the wine and determines the amount. It is also where most variation occurs as the glasses are either tapered with either a narrower opening or a wider bottom. The varying shapes help distribute and capture the wine's aroma and drives it towards the nose and mouth.The bowls are also designed to enable a considerable amount of surface area conducive for the wine. For instance—red wine glasses require a large surface area to allow the wine to breathe and release its scent while white wine glasses need a small surface area.
  • The rim: Winemakers agree that the thinner the rim, the easier it is to sip your wine. A good wine glass will have a cut-like rim with smooth edges that does not inhibit the wine when flowing out and that is soft enough for your lips and mouth. Rims can be particularly distractive despite the functionality; the rolled or bumpy nature can ruin your wine experience.
  • Color: While most glasses are crystal clear, colored glasses especially with decorative accents also exist. However, clear glasses are more recommend as they allow the scarlet color and the whole subtleties of the wine to be visible.

The Various Wine Glass Shapes

Set of types of wine and glasses red white sparkling and dessert wine

Wine glasses take multiple forms and shapes for different reasons.

For instance, wide bowl-shaped glasses are used in red wines not just for the aromatic effects but because they give you that comfort when swirling the liquids in them.

Mind you, the most popular reason for choosing a Pinot Noir glass shape, a red wine glass shape, a Chardonnay glass shape, a white wine glass shape or simply name-your-variety glass shape is that it changes how you perceive your wine.

From its color, body, and alcohol to its acidity and tannins.  

More powerful and full-bodied flavored wines typically enjoy bigger, rounder glasses.

Many of those breathtaking red glasses you see on expensive restaurant tables today are capable of holding about a whole bottle of wine. 

A Bordeaux style glass, for instance, is about 8.75 inches tall and 3. 3 inches in diameter. The glass could hold about 15.75 ounces, which is approximately 62 percent of the whole bottle if it was to be filled to the brim.

Red Wine Glasses

Red wine commands larger wine glasses. The bowls of these types of glasses tend to be fuller and rounder with a larger opening compared to white wine glasses.

You can practically dip your nose into the glass to get the aroma or just enjoy it every time you are taking a sip.

The large bowl allows the red wine aromas to escape freely and create a red -wine atmosphere.

It is also imperative for the bowl to be large as it allows air to come into contact with the wine, which contributes to the beautiful coloring of the wine. 

Typically, it turns darker as it combines with the air.

Red wine glasses can also be tall as long as they maintain the bowl large and round.

The Bordeaux glass is one example of the taller glass. It is designed to hold heavy, full-bodied red wines like Merlots and Cabernets.

The tallness of the glass makes it possible for the wine to roll down straight to the back of the mouth and maximize its flavor.

Another famous glass is the Burgundy glass that is designed to hold lighter wines like Pinot Noir.

It is similarly tall just like the Bordeaux glass but has a larger bowl compared to the Bordeaux glass.

This is to help direct the wine to the tip of the tongue and get the taste of the delicate flavors.

Generally, most red wine glasses are a bit taller but have a larger bowl compared to white wine.

The design is meant to create aeration, allowing you to enjoy the nuances of fine wine and the subtle complexities of the wine. 

Away from the nose, the design of the wine glass also determines how the wine hits your palate.

Like the Burgundy, glasses allow the wine to fill more of the palate while Bordeaux glasses will ensure that the wine focuses on the palate center.

They also direct how and where we detect sweetness, acidity, and tannins. Red wine glasses are not made for show, they're designed to increase our enjoyment of the wine. 

Can you imagine enjoying a red wine from a narrow sparkling wine flute?

The stem is usually long enough for us to grip too. This is so that we don't warm the wine too much with our hands or mess the view of the bowl with oily fingers.

White Wine Glasses

White wines like to remain cool that is why we should hold the glass by the stem at all times.

White wine glasses usually have a small round brim that encloses the wine.

This to prevent it from interacting with air.

Unlike red wines, white wines do not need any air and are not enhanced by oxidation, so there is no need to keep them aerated.

The narrow glass shape helps reduce the surface area of the wine which comes into close contact with oxygen. Reducing the surface area that is in contact with the air also serves to keep those delicate bubbles fresh for a little longer, when drinking sparkling wines.

The narrow brim also has another function of concentrating the delicate aromas on your nose.

A great example of a white wine glass is the Chardonnay glass, which comes in all styles and shapes due to the different Chardonnays on offer (oaked and unoaked). 

The Riesling glass is another great glass with a wide range of bountiful as well as aromatic expressions.

Its exuberance is not natural to contain, so it’s better to serve the drink in smaller glasses as the focus dwells on the bouquet.

Unlike Pinot Noir that really appreciates some reasonable amounts of oxygen, Riesling prefers to keep its floral delicacy intact and can easily find itself lost in a large glass.

Due to the chemical variances, there are very few white wines that can significantly improve through aeration, compared to red wine.

These kinds of chemical differences are the reasons why white wine is served chilled or slightly cooler than room temperature, which helps generate the absolute concentrations of the unique phenolic compounds present in these varieties.

To achieve the perfect white wine experience, get an average sized glass with a relatively small globe.

White wine is typically served in the same tight tulip which is ideal for holding and also capturing the desired aromas.

The small liquid surface area can go a long way towards keeping the wine fresh and in its prime for longer once poured.

The Difference Between a Red Wine Glass and a White Wine Glass

Red wine glasses are generally more bulbous than white wine glasses.

A wide brim helps aerate the wine and allows oxygen to enhance the aroma and flavor. It also allows us to give a generous swirl of the wine.

The narrower opening on a white wine glass is to concentrate the delicate aromas and to minimize air contact. It also serves to preserve the bubbles for longer with sparkling wines.

A shorter stem on red wine glasses is due to the higher serving temperature of red wines (red wines are usually served at room temperature). The warmth generated from your hands doesn't have as much of an influence on the temperature of red wine.

Colder, more delicate white wines are much more easily negatively affected by warm hands raising their temperature. Therefore, the longer stems are easier to grip and allow us to avoid holding the bowl.

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About the Author Tim Edison

Tim started Wine Turtle way back in 2015.
These days he contributes to Wine Turtle (and other renowned wine publications) while continuing his wine education.
Tim's wine of the month is the Coates & Seely Reserve Brut NV (from Hampshire, England).

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