Breweries, Wine, and Cheese

The Grape Vine: The History & Anatomy of the Wine Glass

two trays of champagne glasses

By Gina Trippi

The history of the wine glass goes way back. During the late Pleistocene, humans were baking clay goblets for use. Phoenicians brought the raw materials and technology that led to bronze tankards, and Romans introduced silver and pottery goblets characterized by ornate scrollwork.

The shallow cup with a fine stem appeared in the 5th century, mostly used by the upper class with the less fortunate using utilitarian pottery goblets. The Saxons brought fine glassware, gold jeweled goblets and, well, horns. Since the horn, lovely as it was, could not be laid on the table, the serving had to conclude in one guzzle.

The horn hung on through 700 to 800 AD. The church prohibited horns for use in communion and the silver flagon made its appearance. By the late 900s, wooden tankards were in common use and, finally, clear glass tumblers came into vogue in England by the late 1000s.

In the 1300s, a portable option—a leather vessel—was popular and endured until the 1800s. During this time, drinking vessels included small leather cups, wooden mugs, pewter vessels used by the church, gourds and the Fuddling cup-vessel. This novelty cup had three or more small cups with interlinked handles joined through a small hole in the walls. The idea was to drink from one cup without spilling the contents of the others.

Fine glass in the form of a goblet with a glass stem became available in the late 17th to early 18th century. This shape, the stemmed glass supporting a large bowl, has remained a stalwart. But why? Simply put, it brings focus to the aromatics, and to smell is to taste!

The wine glass as we know it is impractical for stacking, but perfect for swirling, sniffing and maintaining the wine’s temperature. While many glassware companies offer various shapes and sizes, the basic elements of the wine glass remain the same.

The rim is the most fragile part. A more everyday glass has a rolled rim while a more elegant glass presents a rim that feels seamless. The bowl is designed to accommodate at least five to six ounces of wine while leaving room, the “headspace,” to swirl.

The bowl should not be filled more than halfway or above the widest point and should narrow at the rim to concentrate aromas.

The purpose of the stem is to keep your heat-generating hands off the bowl. That being said, the stem should be at least the width of your hand from the base to the bowl. Compare a wine glass stem to a brandy snifter where a little warmth is a good thing!

The base, simply designed to allow you to set the glass down, solves the design problem the horn presented.

Riedel glasses, available at Metro Wines, are specifically designed in shape and size for each varietal. The stemware not only accentuates the grape but ensures that the wine hits the proper part of the tongue.

Gina Trippi is the co-owner of Metro Wines, 169 Charlotte Street in Asheville. Committed to the community, Metro Wines offers big shop selection with small shop service. Gina can be reached at or 828.575.9525.

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