The Life of Wine

 |  February 1, 2012

This month I have decided to risk being slapped for pretentiousness. The discussion is: does the glass one gulps wine from make any difference whatsoever to the taste? Of course it does. Not to say that something chilled and fruity out of a polystyrene cup on a beach, watching a sunset with that special someone in your life, isn’t likely to taste superb; but in general, spending a few baht on something more aesthetic than a mug will enhance the overall wine experience.

After all, who among us hasn’t spent six hours conjuring up a tasty Bolognese (with a prawn cocktail starter) for that special someone in his life, pulled out a rather fine bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, poured it into a cardboard beaker with a picture of a teddy bear and some balloons on the side, and had that special someone in his life make their excuses, leave, and get engaged to his best friend?

No, serving wine in the wrong receptacle is something that, if possible, should be avoided. Quite simply, the size, shape and clarity of the wine glass affects the way the wine looks, smells and tastes, and all of these things are what wine is about. A wide rim and a large bowl opens up a heavy, complex red; a more tapered glass is useful for keeping in the subtle aromas of a chilled white, and a champagne flute is designed to keep the bubbles fizzing for as long as possible.

The rim of the bowl is supposed to be thin so that the least amount of glass ends up in the mouth. The bowl should be clear, to show off the colour of the wine. The stem is useful for keeping the heat of the hand away from the wine – and grubby fingerprints off the bowl – and the base helps to keep the contents of the glass out of your lap.

The shape of the bowl – and here the science of wine glasses gets a little more questionable – is often designed with the intention of introducing the contents of the glass onto the part of the tongue which will most appreciate it. What we do know about the tongue is that our taste buds are designed to differentiate between sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami (a word nicked from Japanese, which translates as ‘nice and savoury’). What we don’t know are the complexities of how the tongue does this. That ‘taste map’ of the tongue we remember from biology lessons is complete balls, by the way, and everyone’s taste receptors work differently.

However, we do have an astonishing gift for smelling things. Wine is essentially rather bland in the mouth, but the aroma, the bouquet, whatever you wish to call it, (I like smell) is extremely complex, and that is what makes wine so remarkable. And this is why spending a bit of happy cabbage on a decent set of glasses is actually important. I know that I look, smell and taste better in a Sergio Tacchini tracksuit. In the same way, a good Bordeaux looks, smells and tastes better out of a large, clean bowl on a stem. Everyone is different when it comes to what they can smell, but a glass which best helps to get those smells into the nostrils is a real boon. After all, the olfactory sense is what gives food, and wine, much of its taste.

The biggest name in wine glasses at the moment is Riedel. The family has been making stemware for generations and produce an astonishing range of glasses, each designed for a particular wine variety or drinking purpose. It was Georg Riedel who slammed those chunky, tiny goblets still found in Paris cafes and restaurants as the enemy of wine, and the family is now making very fine glassware that no longer has a price tag designed to bring on a seizure. I would recommend spending as much on a set of glasses as will not bring tears to the eyes when they fail to bounce off the kitchen floor.

Personally, I believe all wine should be enjoyed from the most ostentatiously gigantic piece of hand-blown crystal available, while lounging on a chaise longue, wearing a smoking-jacket and a fez. But, then again, I no longer have that special someone in my life.

CityWine is the new wine initiative by Citylife. During the last quarter of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, CityWine organised a number of wine-focussed events supporting local establishments while stocking up the wine fridges of many wine buyers at well under retail prices.

CityWine welcomes your feedback and suggestions for future events, tastings or anything wine related. Send your correspondence to or visit