Wine, like love, is a many-splendoured thing. Both require a vessel to contain them although, in drinking wine, very few people confuse the receptacle with its contents. Quite the opposite: they pour a liquid that was made with passion and sold at a premium into any old beaker, veiling its beauty in the boozing equivalent of a burqa.
I have eaten at an achingly hip restaurant, where the cocktails were inventive, the food was spectacular and the mixologist’s hair was as artfully distressed as the walls, and have been served excellent white wine warmed to the temperature of tea, its bouquet dissipated and its glow muted by a pedestrian, stemless glass better reserved for Coca-Cola.
“The cocktails each have a dedicated vessel, but why no stemware?” I whimpered to my waiter. He shook his bearded chin. “Pretentious,” he pronounced.
Even the French, who are supposed to know about these things, will upend bottles of wine of any colour or quality into ballons – the cheap, ball-shaped glasses most suited to bringing out the aroma of mediocrity. Yet wines, like people, vary in their requirements, an idea taken to its capitalist conclusion by Riedel, which has different glasses for Chardonnay and Riesling, for Old and New World Pinot Noir, as well as special versions for sommeliers, and even alternative tasting goblets, depending on whether the Bordeaux you are drinking is grand cru or “mature” – particularly odd, as a Bordeaux meriting that level of finickiness is likely to be both.
Those of us with limited cupboard space can follow a few basic precepts. Red wine repays a larger surface area – the tannins soften as they meet oxygen – while white prefers a narrower home, to concentrate delicate fragrances. Both should taper at least a little at the top, pursing their lip the better to exhale sweet scents and flavours.
Most people believe that champagne should be drunk in a flute, and in this they are mistaken. Richard Geoffroy, the head winemaker at Dom Pérignon, uses a wider-bowled glass intended for Chianti Classico; Eric Rodez, an eighth-generation maker of superb champagnes, also prefers a receptacle that he describes as “voluminous”. A tasting of an excellent sparkling English wine, Davenport Limney Estate 2010, in four different glasses left no doubt that the variation was great enough to justify careful thought.
A white wine glass from Habitat reduced the bubbles almost to nothing; the ordinary flute did no harm but little good. An elegant, thin-stemmed glass by Zalto, a proponent of straight-sided glassware (because, according to the firm’s general manager, Christoph Hinterleitner, this allows the aromas to travel from drink to drinker most directly), wasn’t nearly as generous with those aromas as Riedel’s champagne glass, which was as voluminous as Rodez could have wished.
Those straight-sided glasses do, however, work wonders with more aromatic options. I rashly poured an Amarone, the powerful red of the Veneto region, into the large, flat-bottomed vessel destined by Zalto for Burgundy and inhaled. It was as if the wine had punched me.
How many wine glasses does a woman need? You might as well ask how many loves she should experience in a lifetime. In both, I have known what I wanted when I found it. When one romance faded, as even great vintages will, I took my sorrow shopping. I bought a beautiful, shyly sinuous glass for whites, so delicate that I fear to breathe on it, and a voluptuous balloon for my beloved Armagnac. And then I went back to the shop and bought each of them a companion, because hope is the most persistent aroma of all.
Next week: Felicity Cloake on food
This article appears in the 15 Mar 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain