That statement is probably a little extreme, but I am asked frequently if there truly is a proper way to hold a wine glass and if it really matters at all.
Is it proper etiquette to hold your glass a certain way? Of course, it’s easiest to just grab a wine glass by the bowl, but is that really OK?
As I always say, my No. 1 rule with wine is that you simply enjoy it. There really are no hard and fast rules you have to follow. The type of glassware does matter.
As I have indicated in other columns, the type of glass you ae using is a critical factor to enjoying wine, and is much more important that how you hold the wine glass itself. Specific glasses for particular wine varietals should be used, as they are designed to enhance the particular wine’s characteristics. Invest your time in learning about wine glass varietal shapes rather than how to hold the glass.
That said, I do recommend holding a glass of wine, particularly a finer wine, by the stem. This prevents smudging and adding fingerprints to the bowl. If you’re drinking a nice wine, you want to look at, and assess, the color of your wine, and fingerprints, smudges and food remnants aren’t going to help. How may finger foods have you eaten standing at a wine reception, only to then pick up your glass with the same hand.
Thoroughly examining wine is something usually left to wine sommeliers and experts. But, there are times in which you may want to note the wine’s color. For example, many types of white wine are aged in oak, which gives the wine a more golden or brown hue throughout. Another example, red wine that has been aged for several years, can also build a light brown ring around the top of the wine. These are things you may be interested in noting before you take your first sip, and smudges could make that process more difficult. Of course, at a nice party, a dirty, smudged up wine glass also isn’t very appealing to the eye.
Another reason you may find it preferable to hold a wine glass by the stem is so you can swirl your wine. The act of swirling wine helps expose it to more air, thus opening up the wine’s flavor and aromas. Of course, this is one of the most pretentious-looking acts associated with wine, but it’s indeed true that doing it can unlock flavors you may not pick up on otherwise. Plus, you have to admit it’s kind of fun and something to occupy your time during boring cocktail party conversation. However, a few swirls is enough. Treating the wine like it is a ride at an amusement park or a replication of a hurricane, is simply not necessary.
And yet, another good reason to hold a glass of wine by the stem is to prevent your hands from unintentionally warming up the wine. Many don’t know that when a wine gets too hot, the alcohol evaporates at a faster rate. You definitely don’t want that to happen. Warmer wine becomes flatter and the flavors become muddled and less apparent. Warm wine just doesn’t work well. Compare it to being served half-melted ice cream – it’s still ice cream, but it’s just not right. Of course, all of this only matters if your wine was served at the right temperature to begin with.
Stemless wine glasses have become more popular for many reasons. In addition to being able to set them down with less worry of tipping over, venues often lean toward stemless glassware so they can use the same glass for wine, cocktails and other drinks. They also seem to fare better with dishwashers in commercial restaurants. Fine-dining restaurants lose lots of glasses to stems being broken off during cleaning.
Ultimately, I recommend using a stemless wine glass only when drinking alone, outside by the pool or with a less expensive wine. Bust out the stemware when you have something more special to drink or at a formal sit-down dinner.
You often see wine “experts” holding the glass on their palm and not even touching the stem. Not only is this pretentious and unnecessary, all it does is increase the likelihood of overswirling the wine onto yourself or others.
In general, simply hold a wine glass by the stem. How many fingers you use to do that with, or the grip you put on the stem, is meaningless.
Vic Poulos, owner Zin Valle Vineyards