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Posted: January 25, 2011

Does the right glass make the wine?

Here's the answer

Who really cares what sort of glass you drink your wine from? Apparently a lot of people do. Do we insist upon the right wine glass because the glass, in and of itself, is an experience? Or do we really want a stem on our wine glass so our body heat doesn't change the wine's temperature?

A friend gave me a set of beautiful, short and stemless "Italian" wine glasses. I know that they're Italian wine glasses because I saw similar ones used ubiquitously in Italy.

It's true that I have an emotional attachment to these glasses. The friend gave them to me as a dear gift meant to lesson the trauma of nursing a young and dying sister. They are lovely works of art with a raised pattern and swirls all around, opaque and muted just enough to allow the deep plum and berry colors of a wine to come through. They fit sweetly into my relatively small hands and one bottle of wine pours perfectly in equal amounts into four glasses.

Most wine experts - indeed even those who are amateurs, yet knowledgeable - insist that a tulip shaped glass with a tapered rim is the only way to go. The tapered rim, they insist, enhances the wine's aromas. Larger wines like a Cabernet Sauvignon, say the experts, require a 20 ounce volume to afford 5 ounces of wine the needed space to open up.

Elise_Wiggins.jpg

Elise Wiggins is Executive Chef at Panzano's in the Hotel Monaco in downtown Denver and she says that a wine glass does make a difference. "First, I'm just thrilled if people drink wine," she says. "Often people start off drinking wine from plastic cup or a Mason jar. That was my experience. So if it's what introduces people to wine, then I'm all for it.

"But I have first-hand experience with trying the same wine with multiple glasses," she adds, "and then using various glasses with different types of wine - to see what differences it would all make. It's huge!

"Which actually makes sense," says Wiggins. "It's like cooking equipment. Some equipment is better used for certain cooking techniques and cooking foods. For example, you need to use a wide, shallow sauté pan to cook and caramelize fish. The reason is that this pot is better than a tall pot because of the allowance of air and release of moisture. If you cooked the fish in a tall stock pot, the moisture would be trapped and thus steam the fish. If you use a low shallow sauté pan, oxygen is introduced and moisture is released and thus a nice beautiful crust is formed from caramelization.

"The same thing goes for a red wine that is served in a tall slender wine glass made for champagne or white wine," she says. "The reds need oxygen as well so they need a wide rim and open bowl so oxygen can get to the wine and allow for the full flavor to bloom. So with that rule, you could possibly use a wide-mouthed Mason jar to get the same effect. You would get a lot of oxygen into your Mason jar and into a red wine. The only thing that you fall short on is the tulip shape that funnels the aromas to your nose as well as the placement of the wine on your tongue. You wouldn't want to use the Mason jar for Champagne or sparkling wine, however, because the shape of that glass is meant to keep the bubbles in while you sip. If you pour it into the Mason jar, you'll get a large surface area that makes the bubbles break up."

I get it, Elise Wiggins. I'm picky about my glassware, too. When I spend $4 on a latte, for example, I want it not just in a ceramic cup, but in a warm ceramic cup, eschewing the cold cardboard that coffee shops often use. When I pay that much for a cup of coffee, I want it exploited to its fullest.

Which aligns well with Chef Wiggins' take on beverage vehicles. "It takes you to another level of appreciation if you use the appropriate glasses," she says. "They have been built to give air when you need it and a funnel to bring the bouquet to your nose. The thing is that you'll experience the wine on many more levels than you would with a Dixie cup or a mason jar."

And I also agree with her bottom-line on the subject. "But if that's all you've got, she adds, "for God's sake don't not drink it."

One Winning Wine Tasting:

The Perfect Bite Cookbook Dinner

On Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 6:00 p.m., Jennifer Jazinksy will host a dinner celebrating her new book, "The Perfect Bite." Jazinsky will prepare a multi-course dinner from the pages of The Perfect Bite, the new Rioja cookbook that's 184 pages of photos, recipes, secrets and tips. Wine expert Beth Gruitch will pair perfect wines with a meal that includes eight courses. Cost is $150 and attendees receive a copy of the book. Call 303.820.2282 to reserve a seat.
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