Everything you need to know about wine glasses and decanters

Over the past few years there have been many changes in the world of wine; not just in the wines that we drink, but also in the glasses we drink them from.

The Paris goblet, which, for long, was ubiquitous in bars and restaurants, has now largely disappeared.

Each wine region had, at one time, its own individual wine glass, but, in one direction there has been a general acceptance of a single design, with certain variations on the theme, whilst at the luxury end of the market, glass manufacturers, such as Riedel are producing designs for not only different regions but for different grape varieties.

For the wine perfectionist, these might be ideal, but perfection comes at a price and at a price that is not affordable for most of us.

How to choose your wine glass

The glass from which you drink your wine should be at the level of the occasion on which you are drinking it and of the level of the wine you are drinking. For example if you are washing down your barbecued burgers at a picnic with litres of vin ordinaire I see nothing wrong with drinking your wine from tumblers. However, better wines, better occasions, demand better glasses.

A wine glass should enable you to show off the wine to its best, to the eye, to the nose and to the palate.

To achieve this, first it must be crystal clear and large enough to enable you to tip it gently so that you can study not just the depth of the wine, but also its rim.

For the second, it should be tulip shaped, so that the perfume of the wine comes over at maximum intensity. This can be helped by swirling the glass around, or, for red wines particularly, cupping the bowl of the glass in your hands; warmth releases the flavours. The glass should be large enough to let you get your nose at it.

Finally, and most important of all, comes the tasting, when all comes together.

The sherry copita

The tulip shape in glasses comes in a variety of styles and sizes. Perhaps the smallest is the sherry copita. This is designed to hold small quantities of chilled wine and to be refilled regularly and rapidly. To me it is too small to fully appreciate the wine.

For both sherry and port and the best dessert wines, I prefer the standard ISO glass, which is somewhat larger. This was originally designed as a tasting glass for professionals, but I think that it is worthy of a broader role than that.

The champagne flute

Whilst the Champagne flute is not truly tulip shaped, its narrow body shows the bubbles off to their best and makes them last longer in the wine.

This glass has now largely replaced the traditional coupe, whose breadth was designed to spread the bubbles as widely and as quickly as possible. Legend has it that this glass was modelled on the left breast of the French queen Marie-Antoinette.

Sadly, it seems that this story is no more than a myth; the glass was designed in Britain a century or so before her time.

The wine glass

A wine glass should be able to hold a generous amount of wine, but this should never be filled to more than a third of its capacity, so that the wine can be swirled about.

Generally speaking a red wine glass should be larger than that for a white wine, as the latter is generally chilled and needs refreshing more frequently. Also the stem on a white wine glass should be longer so that the bowl does not come into contact with the warmth of the drinker’s hands.

Companies such as Dartington and Leerdam offer a range of suitable glasses at a reasonable price. Whilst an array of Riedel on your dinner table is a thing of beauty, it is a luxury few of us need, or can afford.

Similarly, I do like to a range of decanters on a table, but do we need to decant wines and, if so, when? In the main there are three reasons; if the wine has thrown a deposit, if the wine needs aeration before being drunk and finally if you are wanting to serve a wine blind to your guests. Some wines tend to throw a deposit as they age in bottle.

This is particularly true of the best clarets and ports, but it is rare with, for example, Burgundies and Riojas. We also now tend to drink wines younger than we did in the past and, as a result, wineries generally now make their wines for earlier consumption. For this reason, therefore, decanting is less needed than in the past.

In addition, there are some wines which are so full bodied and tannic that they need aeration before they are served. For example a great Barolo will benefit from being decanted twelve hours or so before the meal. The same might be said for the best Shirazes from the Barossa Valley or table wines from the Douro. The object must always be to serve a wine at its optimum.

Finally, as I have suggested, some of us enjoy challenging our guests to say what the wine is that we are serving blind. Then a decanter is essential. I must admit this is something I enjoy doing to my guests but enjoy rather less as a guest!
Good glasses and fine decanters can help ensure that a wine is offered at its best, but they can also add much to the look of a dinner table.

Take a look at our wine collection

Now you know which wine glass to use, and some interesting facts about them, it’s time to choose your wine!

Whether you want to shop by colour, country, or price, here at Fine Wines Direct UK, you can shop however you prefer.

Take a look at our collection of wines, ports and sherrys here.


This blog was written by Christopher Fielden, Former Chairman of the Circle of Wine Writers.

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