For a woman new to the glamorous life, the high-end dinner table or cocktail party may seem impossibly complex. However, not every elegant diner who seems preternaturally at ease with fancy dining paraphernalia learned her skills at finishing school. In fact, most ladies—and their gentlemen, too—learn the difference between a grapefruit spoon and a caviar spoon, or between a tumbler and a highball glass, by experience and study.
We’ll leave it to you and your companion to decide where best to practice, but below is a primer on the many different kinds of glassware designed to bring out the best in your wine. Keep those pinky fingers extended, ladies!
Every element of a wine glass is there for a particular reason.
Just about every glass meant to hold wine has a stem. These may be tall stems in relation to the bowl, as in sherry glasses and champagne flutes; or they may be stubby, as in port and madeira glasses. Most glasses for standard red and white wines, however, have a stem length roughly equal to the height of their bowls.
Cocktail glasses sporting stems include those for martinis, with their signature cone shape. Another spirits glass is just for grappa and has a unique and charming bubble shape at the bottom of its bowl for this strong brandy that must be kept cool to remain palatable.
Actually, keeping wine and spirits cool is the reason for stems in glassware. You don’t put ice in wine or in a martini, for example, but these drinks must remain at a relatively low temperature to provide their ideal taste. The stem allows an imbiber to hold on to the glass and sip at her drink while not making it undrinkably warm from the heat of her hand.
Champagne flutes keep the bubbles flowing.
If a glass has a wide mouth and a 1-to-1 bowl-to-stem length, it is probably for wine. The larger of such glasses usually hold red wine, and the smaller white wine.
Very small stemware is for dessert wines such as port, “standard” sweet, and sauternes as well as the aforementioned madeira and sherry.
Narrow stemware such as tulips and flutes are intended for sparkling wines, since not as much of the liquid is exposed to the air. This helps keep bubbly … well, bubbly longer. The best sparkling wine glasses incorporate a single notch near the bottom to create a steady stream of intoxicating bubbles.
The madeira glass is perfectly designed for this dessert wine.
Alsace and hock glasses have very long stems when compared to their small bowls. It would be best practice to just ask your sommelier or a bartender to demonstrate use of these specialized pieces of glassware. (Remember that cocktail creation specialists grow tired of the making the same old thing and may jump at the chance to show off some little-used but impressive part of their mixological repertoire!)