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Wine Glass Shapes: What's the Difference?

Wine glasses come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and it's not just for the sake of aesthetics. Each glass shape is designed to bring out the best of a certain type of wine, helping it to aerate better or highlight the aromas.

There's literally a shape for almost every variety, and if you wanted to collect them all, start clearing out your cupboards now because we're talking about dozens of shapes. But if you just wanted to learn about the basic ones and keep two or three of them handy, then this primer is for you.

Wine glass anatomy

First things first: Let's go over the parts that every wine glass features.

Illustration by Daria Milas

At the very bottom is the base, which doesn't play a huge part in what the glass does, besides keep it upright. Next comes the stem, which lets you hold the glass without touching the bowl. This is important because if you hold the glass by the bowl, the warmth of your hand will change the temperature of the wine inside the glass.

The bowl of the glass is the most noticeable part, and it comes in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. Big, bulbous bowls allow you to swirl and aerate your wine properly, while thinner, narrower bowls direct the aromas right to your nose.

At the very top of the glass is the rim, which can also vary greatly in thickness, width, and tapering. Thinner, less obtrusive rims allow you to focus on the wine flowing into your mouth rather than the feel of the glass.

Basic shapes

As mentioned, there are many grape varieties out there and a glass shape to match each one. But we're going to focus on the three most basic shapes: Bordeaux (U-shape), Burgundy (bowl shape), and Champagne (flute shape).

Illustration by Daria Milas

The Bordeaux glass's bowl basically goes straight up, with a slightly tapering rim. Picture the letter U. If you own only one type of glass, this should be it. It's the workhorse of wine glasses, accommodating both big red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and light-bodied whites like Sauvignon Blanc.

For more delicate, expressive wines, where aerating and releasing aromas play a big part in the experience (think Pinot Noir or Chardonnay), it's nice to use a Burgundy glass. This glass's wider fishbowl shape allows you to swirl and sniff with enthusiasm. Plus, there's something luxurious about drinking from a wide wine glass!

Then there's the Champagne flute, which most people are familiar with as being the tall, skinny glass that's used for sparkling wines. The elongated profile of the flute provides you with a good view of the bubbles as they rise. Look for flutes that have etching at the bottom of the bowl, which allows bubbles to form; otherwise your sparkler will go flat more quickly.

Want to own these basic types of wine glasses? Riedel's versions are classic, durable, and — best of all — dishwasher-safe. Here are our recommendations for the Bordeaux glass, the Burgundy glass, and the Champagne flute.