This piece originally appeared on VinePair.com
So, remember how everyone was giving Olivia Pope flack for holding her wine glass by the goblet? While we thought it was a bit silly to hold a fictional character to exacting somm standards, there is some truth behind the backlash. When you drink a glass of wine, it’s best to hold it by the stem or the base of the glass. But why?
First off, holding a glass by the stem prevents smudging, and keeps the bulb free of fingerprints. Keeping the bulb fingerprint free means you can more easily asses the wine’s color, and thereby learn things about it before ever even tasting it. For example, if there is a white wine in your glass and it seems to have a darker hue resembling the color of straw, this might be an indication the wine spent some time in oak. Examining the wine in this way is a practice utilized more by sommeliers, but it’s fun to do every once in awhile.
The second reason the glass has a stem is that gripping the stem as opposed to the goblet makes it easier to swirl your wine. The action of swirling churns the liquid as it travels around the bulb, drawing in oxygen from the air and opening the wine up, helping it to release it’s aromas. Though it seems esoteric and a little pretentious, swirling can be the key to unlocking flavors and allowing for an appreciation of the wine’s “nose.”
Perhaps the most intuitive reason to hold the stem is that when you grip the goblet, you warm up the wine. When a wine is too hot, the alcohol evaporates at a quicker pace. As a result, some of the more complex favors are muddled with, and you may be left with a more flat tasting wine. When you hold the stem, you keep the wine at the proper temperature, and thus serve it at its best. If you want to compare the situation to serving food, imagine serving ice cream that was already halfway melted. It still tastes good, but it’s just not the same as the ice was intended to be.
Now, it’s important to note that gripping your wine glass by the stem is only relevant if your wine was served at the right temperature to start with. If your wine was ice cold, feel free to grip it by the goblet to warm it up a bit first as serving a wine too cold results in all its flavors and aromas shutting down.
Given all this, why go stemless? One reason is stemless wine glasses are more versatile, and can be used not only for wine, but for cocktails, or even juices. They’re also easier to handle and less fragile. When drinking from a stemless glass, go ahead and hold the base – how else would you drink the wine? We recommend using stemless wine glasses for more intro level, less complex wine at casual gatherings. When choosing between stem or no stem, it’s, as always, a matter of preference. The most important thing is that at the end of the night is that you enjoy the wine.