February 28, 2011

The Proof is in the Glass

ISO Tasting Glass
    The International Organization for Standardization has designed and recommended a smallish (7-1/2 oz., 220 mL) tulip-shaped glass to be used for international taste testing. An excellent all-around wineglass, often sold at wineries.
I have a small tasting exercise* that I put together for a wine course I was teaching, and I try to force-fit it into tastings I’m leading. It involves pouring a sample into an ISO glass, tasting it, and then pouring the sample into other styles of wineglass. (I’m a devotee of quality wineglasses and firmly believe that the glass is an important factor.) This little comparative test proves – in a highly dramatic manner – that wineglass shape is critical.

Size, shape and material are all important in wineglass design. All three factors have to work. It’s possible for seemingly identical glasses to perform quite differently because of a small difference in any one of these element. Crystal is nice but not necessary, mostly because it tends to have thinner walls than plain glass. Size is strongly influenced by the type of wine: bigger wines tend to work better in larger glasses. However, the most important factor appears to be shape, and the tulip shape is the one to look for.

Tulip-shaped refers to the size and profile of the wineglass’s bowl. The bowl will be taller than it is wide, and the top will be narrower than the rest of the glass … picture a tulip that is just beginning to open. If you’re shopping for glasses spend a few dollars more and get a quality, name-brand glass -- preferably crystal --, that has a nice tulip shape. When dining out, also look for this shape, and if you have trouble finding a restaurant that provides decent glasses, consider taking along your own. Many people do.

* We pit the ISO glass against four of the most commonly used restaurant wineglasses. All the glasses fared poorly compared to the ISO glass.

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