There’s a very persistent piece of bartender gossip that says the shape of the old-timey champagne glass is based on Marie Antoinette’s tit.
Like, at some point a glassblower lovingly (or maybe extremely uncomfortably), examined Marie Antoinette’s dirty pillows and crafted the coupe, the French champagne glass that well, kinda looks like a boob.
Image courtesy of Williams Sonoma
If you’ve ever been to Versailles, seen the sheer mass of gold on the ceilings, and felt the supreme ego of the King in residence (Louis XVI had a reception bed! A reception bed.), you can well imagine the hubris that led down this path.
Perhaps you can even picture Louis, seated at his tiny dinner table, in front of the cluster of footstools where the courtiers perched to watch him eat. Marie Antoinette taking a delicate sip from her glass. Louis, in 18th century French: “Hey everyone, let’s drink to my wife’s truly excellent gazongas! Hey, is that a blank piece of ceiling?”
Lucky for all of us with vivid imaginations, the Marie Antoinette story is just a rumour. The coupe predates her birth (and that of all the other famous women who’ve been the subject of this fiction.) The coupe is no man’s hooter.
Why then, given the compelling bosom shape, do we no longer drink from the coupe? It fell out of fashion just after the 1920s, when people suddenly realized that given the opportunity to linger over their post-Prohibition bubbly, it quickly became warm wine soup.
Sparkling wine is both carbonated and best served chilled, two qualifications which a wide glass is desperately ill-suited for. Hence the modern narrow flute, which allows fewer bubbles to escape and reduces the amount of liquid exposed to warm air.
So okay, it does matter what kind of glass you use for champagne. But what about the rest of the glassware family: red wine glasses (the big one), white wine glasses (the less big one) and stemless glasses? Do they make a difference in how you experience the wine?
The short answer is: not unless you drink really slowly.
At the pace most of us pour wine down our neck, the shape of our glassware matters not at all. Let’s examine why.
Red Wine Glasses
The theory for red wine glasses is their wide bowl and large opening form a natural decanter for bold, complex wines.
In reality, when have you ever decanted anything? If you do decant first, actually using a red wine glass serves no purpose. If you haven’t decanted already, you’re going to need to leave that shit alone for 15 minutes and we both know you won’t.
My verdict? You will look fancier with a red wine glass, and if you have the patience to decant, you should.
White Wine Glasses
As for the whites, they don’t need decanting, so the skinnier white wine glass exists to reduce air exposure and keep your white wine from warming up as quickly. It’s also easier to hold by the stem (and avoid warming the wine with your hands) with the smaller bowl.
Useful? Sure. But again, it really depends how long you take to down the whole thing. If it’s patio night with the girls, you could drink white wine out of a litre jug and probably be safe from warm wine.
More popular of late is the stemless glass, which is 100% a style choice and in no way helpful for tasting wine of any variety. It’s basically a wine glass for around a campfire. They even make them in silicon.
Holding these in your clammy palms is going to make things unpleasant inside real quick, so throw it back and get another pour of Boone’s Farm.
That said, these are excellent for parties where you don’t want to give your soon-t0-be-very-drunk guests your good glasses.
What to Say to Glass Prudes
Anyone who tries to tell you there are more glasses than these four is working for Big Glassware, and you should ignore and shame them. Balloon glasses. Pinot Noir glasses. Oaky Chardonnay glasses. These come from a combination of stylistic trends and the ego of professional wine drinkers.
In the real world, you could drink prosecco out of an old boot, and if you were taking in an Italian vista on a balcony on Cinque Terre, you’d think it was the vintage of a lifetime. Your mood, your environment, and your other senses have a way larger impact on how you experience wine than the vessel it comes in.