There’s so much about wine and wine drinking we seem to just take for granted. Think about it for a moment: have you ever stopped to ask yourself why even here in Australia, we still use so many French terms on our wine labels? Or why dry wines, generally speaking, have been considered so much more superior than sweet or off-dry ones? Or, indeed, why it’s considered wrong to open that second bottle of Semillon before three in the afternoon?
The fact of the matter is that the world of wine is one based around tradition, ceremony, and the ‘correct’ way of doing things. This isn’t as unusual as it sounds, actually; a huge amount of the way we live our lives, the food we eat and the manner in which we drink, as well as the way we go about our daily business could be considered in much the same way. What’s more, tradition isn’t always irrelevant, or frivolous, or without a genuine reason behind it… and that’s something we can definitely see when exploring why wine glasses - overall - come in such a distinctive shape, with a wide bowl and a delicate stem.
Stemmed wine glasses have been about for a long time, and first became popular in the late 18th century, when glassware became a booming business and owning a full range of glass items was something of a status symbol to show off to your mates. Nowadays, we rarely give the stems on our wine glasses a second thought; it’s simply the norm, and no matter how often various trendy bars try to rip up the rule book by serving wine in beakers, jam jars, flower pots, or whatever else has been momentarily declared en vogue, the classic wine glass never really goes away.
That’s no bad thing, for as we’re about to see, the classic and beloved stemmed wine glass really does have a range of practical uses. That’s right - it’s not just a silly detail championed by some Burgundian duke two hundred years (as seems to be the case when revealing the origins behind 90% of wine habits); these stemmed glasses really were designed to help you make the most of your wine, and they continue to do the job perfectly well to this day. Here’s why:
Firstly (as we’ve mentioned plenty of times before in this blog) when it comes to quality wine, temperature really does matter. Serving wine at its optimal temperature allows the full range of flavours and aromas to come forward in the glass - to warm, and the taste of the alcohol takes over. Too cold, and the chemicals which release all those lovely scents and flavours are inhibited, resulting in the wine tasting flat.
Now, for the vast majority of people, your hands are one of the warmest parts of your body (yes, we know that some of you have freezing cold hands most of the time - you don’t have to write in and tell us). Stemless glasses would cause the body heat radiating from your hands to slightly affect the temperature of the wine in the glass, thus causing it to not quite hit the perfect spot when it reaches your palate. You’ve probably noticed this when sipping an ice-cold can of beer at a concert or during a picnic - the heat from your hands really does make a difference quite quickly to the temperature of your drink. Because wine is so sensitive to temperature change, the stems of glasses really do make a massive difference.
Secondly, stemmed glasses make it a lot easier to swirl your wine, and observe its colour while doing so. You might not be the kind of wine drinker who makes a big deal out of doing this, but trust us, swirling wine in a stemless glass is pretty well known for leading to embarrassing spillages.
Lastly (and by no means least), stems stop your from getting your grubby fingerprints all over the bowl of your glass. We’re not exactly neat freaks here, but even we can spot a greasy wine glass from several metres away… and they’re not the prettiest of things to see.
So, there you have it: stemmed glasses are a point at which wine tradition meets practicality and common sense. Trust us - that’s not something that happens all that often, so make the most of this particular tidbit of information while you can!
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