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Matching up Tempranillo and Verdejo

The Perfect Glass

Glassware keeps wine in balance


The aperture of the bowl and the concave sides of the glass direct the way wine hits your palate. This makes the aromas of wine (or any beverage) in our ‘ap' (all purpose) more pronounced. With the glass being slightly conical, the shape imitates that of an unfurling rose.

Master Sommelier DLynn Proctor - Gabriel-Glas

Matching up Tempranillo and Verdejo

Article by James Beard Award-winning author Laura Werlin @cheezelady

Kinks, wings, dimples, tulips, flair, bowls. No – this is not stream-of-consciousness wine writing. Instead, these are descriptors used by wine glass manufacturers to describe various features of their glassware. A kink here, a wing there, a dimple – depending on the goal, the glass may have one or more of these features or it may have none. But the fact these even exist speaks to the wider world of how we taste wine and how and importantly whether the glass we drink from is integral to that.

This is no more important than it is in Ribera del Duero and Rueda, where Tempranillo and Verdejo are made and aged in a variety of styles. This translates to a search for glassware that will accentuate the components of each and keep the wines in balance from nose to palate.

History in a glass

Just mention the phrase “varietal glassware” in the context of wine, and 10 times out of 10, the next word will be Riedel. After all, Claus Riedel was the first person to make the connection between wine glass shape and the wine varietal – the particular grape from which the wine is made –  and from there, create a worldwide company. Since then, many other glassware companies have jumped on the bandwagon but not always in the same way. Riedel has a lock on the varietal glass market, but companies like Gabriel-Glas and Josephinenhütte specialize in universal glassware – a kind of one-size-fits-all approach – while Zalto, Spiegelau (owned by Riedel), Zweisel Glass and Schott Weisel (same company, two brands), and others produce both. 

Thanks to Riedel, we pay attention to the way a wine varietal tastes based on the vessel we are drinking it from almost as much as we do the wine itself. We now know that a big red wine with pronounced tannins, plum, cherry, dark berry, floral aromas and higher alcohol should have space for its aromas to drift upward, minimizing the alcohol impression and maximizing the aromatic experience. We also know that this glass will tame the tannins, allow the fruit and secondary flavors to come to the fore, and keep the alcohol in check.

For this to happen, the glass must be tall and the rim must be slightly narrower to focus those aromas. Although usually called a Bordeaux glass, a glass with this shape in Ribera del Duero signals Tempranillo all the way.

Riedel’s Definition Bordeaux is the glass preferred by experts in Ribera del Duero for their Tempranillo friendliness. Director General of the Ribera del Duero DO Miguel Sanz Cabreras says they use the following criteria when choosing glassware for their prized wine:

  •   A glass with a tall stem and enough volume to be able to move the wine and be able to appreciate it accurately in the different phases of the tasting – from the visual phase, through the aromatic phase, even in the taste phase due to the improvement of the bouquet of the wine itself thanks to its oxygenation.
  •   The glass must be wider at the bottom, (without going to Burgundy-type glasses except for older wines), and narrower at the rim in order to better concentrate and appreciate the aromas. An opening narrower than the base helps to express the aroma of our variety, known for its medium or low intensity compared to other varieties with a much higher intensity.

As Sanz Cabreras alluded to, traditional Burgundy glasses – ones with wide shoulders and a narrower opening – are useful for older Tempranillo, not just their namesake Burgundy. These glasses allow for greater aeration and more concentrated aromas because of the wide bowl and narrower opening – a form that suits older wines like Gran Reservas (and older) and some Cosechas particularly well. 

Varietal white wine glasses are a little different. The stems are usually longer to keep our warm hands away from the bowl and the wine in the glass cool. The opening is also narrower. Glasses best suited for Verdejo are ones with smaller bowls and longer stems and are meant to “land” the wine on the mid-palate, focusing the fruit and balancing the acidity. While there may not be a varietally-named Verdejo glass, Verdejo falls somewhere between a Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio with the acidity and fruit of a Riesling and the weight of Viognier. For that reason,  a Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling glass will do the trick. So too a universal glass regardless of the manufacturer.

Anatomy of a glass

Before choosing a wine glass, it’s important to know the main components of one. It starts with the base or foot – the part of the glass that rests on the table – followed by the stem, the bowl, and finally the rim. The bowl and the rim play particularly important roles in the sensory experience of wine drinking, but the stem is important too. (Stemless glasses play a different role in the sensory experience, warming up the wine in the glass faster because our hands are touching the bowl. Practically speaking, there’s no stem to break in the washing process, therefore making it a popular choice among the casual wine drinking set and some restaurants).

Equally important is the type of glass used to fabricate the final product. The two types used for wine glasses are crystal and regular glass. Because of the minerals in crystal, it refracts light. In turn, the color of the wine is more vibrant, almost sparkly, just like the glass itself. In addition, crystal wine glasses make a delicate sound when clinked together (gently, of course). Regular glass makes for a thicker overall glass and a far less sonorous sound upon clinking.

The thinness of crystal and the relative thickness of glass makes a particularly important difference when it comes to the rim. This is the last thing your mouth touches before you take a sip. The thinner the rim, the easier the wine flows. The size of the rim also affects where the wine gets delivered on your tongue – an integral part of the tasting experience.

Equally important is the sensory pleasure that comes from a delicate rim. A thicker one, called a safety rolled glass rim and made from glass, has a perceptible “bump.” It’s almost as if the wine and aromas have to jump over a hurdle to get to your mouth. You’ll often find these in high-volume restaurants where breakage is an issue as they are unquestionably more durable. Although not a deal-breaker, these rims and the glass they’re made from do lessen the enjoyment of the sensory experience of wine. Think: TV sound bar versus surround sound. With a sound bar, you’ll hear just fine but the experience won’t be nearly as full as if you were surrounded by speakers. 

The size of the glass opening also plays a role in your perception of a wine. That opening has a direct correlation to the bowl size – the part of the glass that holds the wine and where the magic begins. We’ve all seen bowls that are practically the size of a pizza, and we’ve seen such narrow ones (with openings to match) that the concept of swirling and smelling the wine was clearly lost on the manufacturer. Luckily, most wine glasses fall somewhere in the middle.

In the case of most white wine glasses, the bowl size tends to be smaller and the opening narrower. This preserves and directs the more delicate aromas directly to your nose and the flavors to the middle of your palate – important features when it comes to light and medium-bodied, moderately acidic white wines like Verdejo.

Fuller-bodied white wines find a better home in glasses with larger bowls and a tapered opening. This allows for a little more swirl action, which releases some of the oak found in these wines as well as emphasizes the creamy texture that comes from malolactic fermentation (when used). The tapered opening focuses the aromas. Several winemakers in Rueda are now starting to fashion their Verdejos in this style, and for those, this is the glass to use.

It’s all about the bowl

There are two main bowl styles of red wine glasses – wide with a tapered opening, and less wide with a more gradual and longer march to the opening. The former is typically used for lighter style reds with softer tannins such as pinot noir. Appropriately enough, that is called a Burgundy glass.

The larger glass, which is also taller, is meant for full-bodied reds with pronounced tannins and higher alcohol. The taller size allows the wine’s aromas to develop more fully while the perception of alcohol is less in part because the large surface area allows it to dissipate. Also, the heat of the alcohol is further from the nose. Typically called a Bordeaux glass, this glass shape is tailor-made for Ribera del Duero Tempranillo because it allows for this wine’s full expression and enjoyment.

Hype or helpful?

Some ask, is a varietal glass necessary? Master Sommelier Dustin Wilson, the co-owner of Verve Wine in New York and San Francisco, doesn’t think so. Instead, he likes to have one glass that covers most of the bases. “What’s important to me is that the bowl of the glass is large enough to pour four to six ounces (of wine) and allow for swirling and smelling the wine, allowing me to “play” with it without the wine without it spilling out; large enough to be appropriate for a variety of reds, but not so big that it wouldn’t make sense for crisp, aromatic whites or  Champagne,” he says.

Master Sommelier and owner of Frasca restaurant in Boulder, Bobby Stuckey, takes a more middle-of-the-road approach. “I am more traditional. I think [you] try your hardest to afford the best stem you can for your house or for your guests if you purchase for a restaurant.” This ambivalence along with the entrepreneurship of certain glassmakers has led to another option: the universal glass – also sometimes referred to as all-purpose or AP for short.

One glass fits all

The importance of the shape and size of a wine glass can’t be underestimated but opinions about what that should be differ. Some companies base that on the type of wine it is intended for, or in the case of an all-purpose (AP) glass (sometimes referred to as universal), the design of the glassmaker.

This is certainly true for René Gabriel, founder of Gabriel-Glas, who determined that with the right construction, one glass could bring out the best in just about every wine, whether white, red, sparkling, or sweet. While the company makes both a machine-made and a more expensive mouth-blown version, the shape of the glass is the same as is the message. One glass fits all.

Gabriel-Glas partner and Master Sommelier DLynn Proctor explains that the anatomy of his company’s glass ensures that. “The aperture of the bowl and the concave sides of the glass direct the way wine hits your palate. This makes the aromas of wine (or any beverage) in our ‘ap’ (all purpose) more pronounced. With the glass being slightly conical, the shape imitates that of an unfurling rose.” Sounds poetic, but the proof is in the glass, which is indisputably elegant and makes for a fine wine drinking experience with both Tempranillo and Verdejo. Nice to know it’s dishwasher safe too, though many of the specialty wine glasses are.

At the Josephinenhütte glassware company, the guiding philosophy is similar even though the wine glass design is different. Here, they have just four types of glasses including a universal glass. Kurt Josef Zalto, the creator of the Josephine glass, set out to make a lightweight, thin-walled wine-friendly glass regardless of the type of wine that’s in it. These glasses also have a distinctive “kink” in them – an indentation in the glass just above the bowl in the three still wine glasses and below the shoulder in the Champagne glass. The unusual feature is said to allow the wine’s flavor and bouquet to fully unfold. Riedel has now gotten in the act with its newest glass called Winewings. It too has a kink just above the bowl, which has a flat and stretched bottom. The idea is to increase the surface area between the wine and air, which they say aids evaporation and intensifies the aromas. Each Winewings glass is constructed slightly differently to accommodate the characteristics of different varietals.

The Josephine red wine glass in particular has a universal appeal because of its design as a combination Burgundy-Bordeaux glass. The idea behind it is that not only can you use the glass for a variety of red wine styles – in the case of Ribera del Duero Tempranillo, everything from a Crianza to a Gran Reserva – but so too oak-aged white wines including certain Rueda Verdejos. All Josephine glasses are mouth-blown, which translates to a more delicate and expensive glass best suited for hand washing. Read: special occasion for most of us.

Prior to Josephinenhütte, Zalto started his namesake company Zalto Glass. There, the wine glass line-up is more expansive and includes a universal glass as well as varietal specific glasses. However, the company is quick to point out that while their glasses may carry the names of regions (Bordeaux, Burgundy), those identities are intended as guidelines, not rules. Interested in trying a Shiraz in a Bordeaux glass? They encourage that. Like many other glasses, theirs come at a price. Their website explains why: “The delicacy of the glass is intended to convey the feeling that there is nothing between you and the wine.” And really, who doesn’t want that?

Decisions, decisions

With all the wine glass options, it’s hard not to be stymied. Two considerations above all should act as your guidelines: budget and storage space. After that, it’s about practicality versus what some might call frivolity. Sometimes less really is more, and when it comes to wine glasses, many experts adhere to that philosophy. “My personal recommendation would be this: have one type of glass that covers you for a majority of the wines that you drink at home and then at most, have a second style that would be appropriate for very special bottles of varying styles,” says Verve owner Wilson.

Or in the case of Verdejo and Tempranillo, it’s simple. Either get one universal glass – one that suits your style and budget – or look for a classic white wine glass for Verdejo, usually identified as a Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc glass and a red wine Bordeaux glass for Tempranillo. With these you will bring the best out in the wines and maybe yourself too. After all, a great wine drinking experience starts with the wine and the glass you put it in. Get those right and all will be right with the world.