When It's Right to Use the Wrong Wine Glass
Portuguese sommelier António Lopes is giving you permission to break the rules
While wine is one of our most universally beloved creations, it is also one of the most universally intimidating. Wine etiquette can feel daunting, like an extensive rule book that exists for the sole purpose of making you look dumb. And though wine drinking is certainly governed by standards in temperature, pairing, glass shape and more, one wine expert is giving you permission to break a major rule, because sometimes doing the wrong thing is so, so right: serving white wine in a "red wine" glass.
António Lopes is sommelier and "wine guru" at Anantara Resort's Emo Restaurant in Vilamoura, Portugal, a concept where the chef imagines food to match the wines, not the other way around. Lopes, however, spends quite a bit of time thinking about pairings—namely, the significance of glass shape and temperature to a wine's expression—and he's found that conventional wisdom isn't always correct.
Take a bright white wine from Portugal's popular Vinho Verde region, which would customarily be served in a white wine glass, slimmer than the more roundly-opened glass traditionally used for reds. Indeed, a smaller opening is the best way to appreciate the nuances of the white wine's flavor because of the way it funnels the wine onto the middle of your tongue. But if you wanted to pair that wine with a rich dish—say, a carbonara—you might consider tweaking the way in which that wine expresses itself, by opening it up in a glass traditionally used for reds.
"It's all in the shape of the glass," Lopes says. "Acidity usually comes through on the sides of your tongue, so if you have a glass that is more closed, the wine will go straight to the middle of your tongue, and you won’t get as much of the acidity."
If you serve the wine in a larger, rounder glass, however, the flavor experience will be entirely different. "It will spread all over the tongue, and you will taste more oxidation," he says. "If the glass is big and round, the oxygen is going to enter more, and it’s going to concentrate the fruit. You're going to feel the tannin. Some glasses make you move the wine into a different channel of your palate."
So, if you're pairing a bright, acidic white with a richer dish, you may want to serve the wine in a glass you'd normally use for red wine, so as to access more of the wine's acidity, cutting the richness of the dish. But Lopes still calls this glass the "wrong" one, even though it works in this context.
"You feel the acidity. It's much crispier and not balanced," he says, noting that it works for the pairing but not if you were sipping the wine by itself. "A glass with a narrower opening would balance everything because of where it lands on your tongue."
Ray Isle, Food and Wine's executive wine editor, says that this experimentation with glasses, while "very somm geeky," has become much more widespread.
"A classic example is using a white wine glass for good Champagne," Isle says. "That’s actually become almost standard among somms now."