If you find yourself constantly reaching for Napa Valley wines with dinner, or just want to elevate your at-home wine drinking experience, you may want to consider investing in glassware designed to enhance your overall enjoyment of Napa wines.
While it’s not necessary to spend a fortune on the “proper” glassware for each wine varietal — and if we’re being honest, you can drink wine from whatever vessel you’d prefer, even if said vessel is a coffee mug or Solo cup — there is truth in that the shape of a glass can make a difference in the wine’s overall appeal. So, if you’re ready to take your wine glass game up a notch, here are tips for choosing the right wine glasses for your favorite Napa wines.
Certain wine glasses are specifically designed to improve the taste and character of a wine by directing aromatic compounds and taste profiles to hit different areas of the nose and tongue. Essentially what happens is, when you swirl and taste, the shape of a glass will affect the position of those flavor compounds as they reach your nose or mouth, making the wine come more alive, or not, depending on the vessel design. And no, we’re not just saying that, it’s actually been scientifically proven!
Now that you know that vessel shape matters, you may be wondering if stemless or stemmed wine glasses are preferable. While some argue that wine, especially white, should never be served in a stemless glass (your hand can warm up the wine too quickly), the stem versus stemless debate doesn’t matter as much as the shape and size of the bowl. So whether you opt for fancy stemmed wine glasses or modern, everyday stemless ones, the most important thing in choosing the best glassware is that your glass bowl has enough space above the wine to swirl and collect aromas in the glass.
Chances are, if you like Napa wine, then you are probably a fan of cabernet, widely known as the King of Napa grapes. When it comes to wine glasses, a good fit for cabernet sauvignon and other bold red wines is the traditional “Bordeaux Glass,” which consists of a large, less rounded bowl with height, or the “Cabernet Glass,” which is broad but slightly smaller than the Bordeaux. Since Napa cabernets tend to be high in alcohol and tannin, that extra distance between you and the wine allows some of the typical ‘burn’ of the ethanol to dissolve before it reaches your nose, while a wider opening lets in more oxygen and directs the wine to the back of the mouth, softening the harshness of the tannins as you sip.
Though some white wines are served in smaller bowled glasses, which preserve delicate aromas and acidity, full-bodied and oaked whites like chardonnay are better suited to larger glasses. A “White Burgundy Glass,” which is similar in shape to a pinot noir glass, features a wide bowl and narrow rim, thereby concentrating the aromatics of the creamier, oaked whites in order to offset some of the richness of the fruit. Unoaked or younger chardonnays, on the other hand, tend to be served in traditional white wine glasses, known as the “Chardonnay Glass.” Its slightly narrower rim concentrates aromas more precisely, while allowing some of the more apparent acidity from stainless steel fermentation to shine through.
Unlike chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and other light-bodied, acidic white wines fare better in smaller bowled glasses. A narrow rim preserves aromas while a less broad bowl allows the wine to maintain a cooler temperature. Its shape also directs the wine to the center of your palate to avoid the unfavorable mouth puckering sensation that can be caused by high levels of acidity reaching the sides of your tongue.
Zinfandel from Napa Valley tends to be bold with ripe fruit notes and peppery, allspice characters. Medium-sized red wine glasses with a slightly larger rim work well for zinfandel by supporting the bouquet while softening some of the strong flavors and alcohol as it hits your tongue.
While coups are a stylish nod to a bygone era, they really aren’t the best vessels for sparkling wine as they allow in too much oxygen, thereby diminishing the wine’s effervescence — and sparkling wine just isn’t the same without those bubbles. While a Champagne flute is also synonymous with bubbly, its narrow opening (and standard high pour) make it hard to appreciate the wine’s aromas. For optimal drinking pleasure, kiss the flute and coupe goodbye and instead opt for a tulip glass or tapering wine glass, which both allow bubbles to form and aromas to unfold.
While we recommend investing in one to two styles that match your wine preferences, you can’t go wrong with one set of glassware that is considered “universal,” meaning it’s suitable to most varieties. Many stemware producers, including Zalto and Gabriel-Glas (our go-tos), are making universal glasses which are high in quality and generally work well with any type of wine. All-purpose glassware is not only space-saving (more room on the shelf!) and good for your budget (you’ll save on multiple sets of varietal-specific drinkware), they’re also a great option for those wine enthusiasts who simply don’t want to fuss over matching glass style with varietal.
Crystal glasses offer an elegant, thin design, but they are usually much more expensive than glass. Hand washing is also strongly encouraged, so if you prefer barware that can go in the dishwasher then glass or dishwasher-safe crystal may be for you. Glass wine glasses are usually cost-effective and durable, but they are often not as well designed as their crystal counterparts when it comes to enhancing the flavors in wine. Simply put, choosing glass or crystal wine glasses really comes down to lifestyle. Super serious about your wine tasting? Then invest in better performing glassware. Too worried about breaking your precious Zalto glasses that it takes the fun out of drinking from them? Go cheaper. You can’t go wrong finding something that is right for you.