Believe it or not, the shape of your wine glass can affect the flavor of the wine. The glass shape is especially important when you are serving red wine.
Best Glass for Red Wine
You may have heard about the necessity of letting a red wine "breathe." This refers to the way the wine interacts with the air. Often, allowing the wine to oxidize slightly changes its flavor for the better. Ideally, it's a good idea to serve red wine in a glass that specially designed to give it maximum exposure to the air. This is where balloon glasses come in. These large, stemmed designs offer plenty of room for the wine to spread out and maximize the surface area that is exposed to the air. They get their name from the way their shape resembles a rubber balloon.
Why Shape Matters
Along with allowing more surface area to interact with oxygen, shape matters in red wine glasses because the correct shape of a glass can do the following:
- Allow plenty of space between the surface of the wine and your nose to allow ethanol to evaporate and deliver the wine's aromas
- Soften tannins for a smoother tasting wine
- Deliver aromas in the right way to enhance wine's qualities, since aroma is so closely connected with flavor
Choosing Balloon Glasses
Balloon glasses are available at a variety of price points, and their shapes vary from very pronounced balloon shapes to more stylized versions. You can find inexpensive options for less than $2 or $3 per glass, and you'll also see expensive lead crystal designs for more than $50 each. Your budget may dictate which red wine glass you select, but these are some of the other factors you should consider.
In order to be considered a true "balloon," the glass must have a very round shape with a wide mouth. Alternatively, it may be more stylized with a less pronounced balloon shape.
Size and Capacity
Ideally, look for a red wine glass that can hold at least 12 ounces of wine. While a typical pour is 5 to 6 ounces, larger glasses give the wine maximum air exposure.
High quality glassware and crystal experts look for glasses with very fine edges or rims.
A stem is an important part of a balloon glass because it prevents the warmth of your hand from interfering with the temperature of the wine.
Low quality glassware may have streaks or bubbles embedded in the glass. In addition, it may be too thick to allow you to observe the wine through the side of the balloon. Look for glasses that are very clear.
Although it has nothing to do with the functionality of a balloon glass, look for a design that you really love. Some of the most beautiful options include hand-cut crystal or artisan-made blown glass.
Where to Shop for Balloon Wine Glasses
If you're in the market for a new set of balloon glasses, consider the following shopping options:
- Your local department store may offer a variety of balloon glasses in the housewares department. This is a good choice if you're including wine glasses in your wedding registry or want to find a nice set at a reasonable price.
- Wine specialty shops and local vineyards often feature balloon glasses made by local artists. If you're looking for a unique design, these would be good places to shop.
- Antique stores also sometimes sell beautiful wine glasses. Since the balloon design hasn't changed very much in recent years, this could be a good way to find a classic style you'll really love.
- A factory outlet store is a great option if you want high-end wine glasses at lower prices. Be sure to check the quality of the glass, since outlets sometimes sell lower-quality factory seconds.
- Online housewares stores like Williams Sonoma or Crate and Barrel are also great choices for good quality wine glasses.
- Wine Enthusiast is a great place to find high quality wine glasses from makers such as Riedel, Schott Zweisel, and Zenology.
Some Red Wine Balloon Wine Glasses to Try
The following red wine balloon glasses are good options.
Budget Stemware: Threshold™ Red Wine Balloon Glasses
Threshold™ glasses from Target are a great option if you're seeking budget-friendly glasses. At around $25 for a set of four glasses, this stemware is dishwasher safe and attractive. Each glass has a 23.5-ounce capacity and a wide bowl to provide for maximum aeration of the wine.
Sommelier Level Stemware: Riedel Sommeliers Value
These glasses aren't cheap - two of the Riedel Sommeliers Value Burgundy glasses will cost you $125 and the Bordeaux glasses will cost around $100 but they're nearly the perfect glass for sipping Burgundy, Pinot Noir, and other highly aromatic red wines or and Bordeaux varietals and blends. They're also more affordable than other Riedel glasses. Riedel is valued in the wine industry to their dedication to making quality wine glasses, and these are no exception. The 37-ounce capacity lead-free crystal glasses are also dishwasher safe, but they are delicate so hand washing might be a better option. However, but if you're drinking fine wine, then these glasses will help enhance your enjoyment of it.
Break Protection Stemware: Fusion Air
The Fusion Air stemware comes with a guarantee: if you break it, they'll replace it for free for 10 years. While the glasses are thin and attractive, they're also engineered from a fusion of hand-blown, lead-free crystal and magnesium to provide exceptional strength. They're also dishwasher safe and moderately priced. A set of four Burgundy stems or a set of 4 Bordeaux stems only costs $60.
Luxury Stemware: Zalto Denk'Art
The glasses from Zalto Denk'Art are beautiful although with a non-traditional balloon shape, and they deliver a sublime wine experience. Made from lead-free crystal, the glasses are hand-blown and dishwasher safe. In fact, dishwashing is recommended over hand washing due to the delicacy of the glasses. The Burgundy glasses are 32 ounces and perfect for Burgundy and Pinot Noir, Barolo and Barbaresco (Nebbiolo), and other highly aromatic wines. The glasses cost $63 per glass. The Bordeaux stems cost $61 per glass and are 23 ounces. They're perfect for Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and other Bordeaux varietals along with Rioja and Rhône wines (such as Syrah or Grenache).
Caring for Your Balloon Glasses
While some experts recommend that you wash your wine glasses by hand, you should always check the manufacturer's instructions for best practices. For some glasses, your dishwasher may etch the glasses and affect their clarity. Additionally, some dishwasher detergents leave a film on glasses, and this can affect the flavor of the wine. With other glasses, dishwasher washing is recommended due to the fragility of the glass bowls.
How to Hand Wash Glasses
To hand wash your glasses, fill your sink with warm water and a little mild dish soap. Place a towel in the bottom of the sink, and wash the glasses one at a time. Dry them immediately to prevent water spots.
A Fantastic Option for Wine Lovers
If you're a true wine enthusiast, or if you simply want to get more enjoyment from your red wines, then balloon glasses are a must-have. When cared for properly, your balloon glasses will be the perfect way to serve red wine for years to come.