If you’ve had any kind of drink in your life, you know what cups, glasses, and mugs look like. For the most part, they are designed simply, because having all sorts of fancy things outside of a handle just aren’t efficient. Except when you drink wine–it’s got that whole long arm and sometimes awkward shape. So why do wine glasses look like that?
Further Reading: What’s the Difference Between Red and White Wine?
Wine Glass Types
Turns out, there are actually quite a few different types of wine glasses. No, drinking wine out of paper cups you stole from Starbucks in your college bedroom is not a type of wine glass. Valid strategy though, wine glasses are expensive.
Let’s start with red wine. These are the glasses you probably think of when someone says “wine glass.” Wider and rounder what you might see white wine in. Why this shape? Well studies in the past have suggested that the glass can influence the aroma of your wine–and therefore its taste. Some narrow openings focus the aroma more, where the wider red wine glasses allow for the wine to oxidize faster (since more of its surface area is in contact with the air). How much of this is a placebo is up to debate–random biases can influence how you think wine tastes. People who think wine is more expensive will think it tastes better–even if it’s just cheap wine with the label swapped.
Glasses used for white wine typically vary more in shape–some are similar to red wine glasses, though others are more narrow. Champagne flutes are often also included in this category.
We haven’t addressed the wine glasses’ stem yet, though it does have a functional purpose to wine enthusiasts. Holding the glass without the stem means your hand is closer to the wine. Wines have their own ideal serving temperature, so wine people don’t want to disrupt that. Your hand will warm your drink, and warming wine at all isn’t what the wine crew is after.
There exists a prevailing myth that the champagne coupe glass was designed to look like Marie Antoinette’s left breast. Funny as this origin story may be, this type of glass was in use long before Marie Antoinette became a prominent figure (in 1663). Some point to other historical women, like Madame du Pompadour (1721-1764) and even Helen of Troy. It doesn’t seem like any of these are true, given that none of these figures line up with the timeline of champagne and the coupe glass. Some like Antoinette were born too late, while Helen of Troy would have died long before the thought of champagne entered someone’s head.
However, Marie Antoinette probably did have porcelain bowls molded from her bosom, so you can still use it as a weird bar fact.
As far as the contemporary wine glass is concerned, we can go as far back as the 4th-century Romans when it comes to intricate designs. Look at the Lycurgus Cup. It’s neat.
Anyway Europeans didn’t really pick up on glass again after the Romans fell until the 10th Century. What most of us would recognize as a wine glass would emerge later out of Venice in the 1400s (the stems and stuff). It’s likely that the stem originated from the church, as the chalices used in communion had a stem for the priest to lift it by.
See if you know who makes the most wine here.