Paul Blow

People spend a lot of money on wineglasses—crystal stems for red or white, sparkling or dessert. But while fine glasses may add something to the enjoyment of what’s within, one thing that always affects your wine negatively is your grubby hands.

Look at the wine you’re drinking. Sight is the first sense engaged, and visual pleasure is not to be underestimated. A wine never looks good, however, when seen through a glass smeared with greasy fingerprints. Now, this may be more of a topic for Helena Echlin’s Table Manners column, but I feel I’ve got to take a stand: There is an epidemic of misheld wineglasses.

Others share my pain. The other day, the topic came up over lunch with some top sommeliers. “There is no occasion to hold the wineglass by the bowl,” agreed Richard Betts, master sommelier and cofounder of Betts & Scholl wines. “Stemless glasses ought to be abolished,” muttered Robert Bohr of New York’s CRU restaurant.

Ironically, Hollywood, so intent on appearance, is the most egregious offender. Some people get upset about smokers being depicted glamorously in movies, but I’m more likely to cringe over a wine-drinking scene. Inevitably the actors are gripping their wineglasses by the bowls, as if they’re cradling a cup of hot chocolate. Julia Roberts drank a lot of Champagne in Duplicity, and those flutes must have been crusted by her fingers at the end of every day of shooting. My wife, who teaches wine service at the Culinary Institute of America’s Napa Valley branch (and who emphasizes holding a glass properly), loved the show Sex and the City, but she told me, “It used to bother me that these sophisticated, elegant ladies, constantly drinking their Veuve Clicquot, would hold their glasses by the bowl.”

Even people who should know better have gotten into the act lately. Look at the bons vivants depicted in the new ad campaign for the Rhône Valley. You’d think a famous French wine region would have more pride. Even worse, check out the rapturous sommelier portrayed on this wine-tasting site.

Here’s the rule: Always hold a glass by the stem (here’s a visual). If you’re holding the bowl, in addition to the grease factor, your fingers will change the temperature of the wine, thus changing your sensation of it. The stemless Riedel O-series glasses are a nice attempt to make wine-drinking more casual—but in doing so, they degrade the wine that they’re meant to show off.

Now, I’ve gone on the record more than once about the fact that I enjoy occasionally drinking wine out of a tumbler, such as when we order pizza at home and I’ve got a simple, inexpensive Montepulciano d’Abruzzo on hand. Yes, it’s dirty, but that’s what tumblers and drinking at home are for. Nice wineglasses are different. In your home, practice holding the wineglass by the stem, so that when you’re out at a party or a restaurant or, mon dieu!, you’re in a Hollywood movie, you look like you know what you’re doing.

Here are two wines that look (and taste) lovely from perfectly clean wineglasses:

Philippe Gonet Champagne Rosé Brut, France—Few things in life are more visually delightful than a rosé Champagne, glowing pink in the glass. This wine is bursting with raspberry, strawberry, and floral notes, yet it’s elegant and crisp.

2008 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino, Sardinia—One thing I love about good Vermentino is its color: golden straw, flecked with a tinge of green. It’s strange, but you almost feel as if you can taste this meeting of yellow and green. The yellow is expressed in fruit, ranging from apple to melon, and the green comes in as a touch of herbs and an almost briny minerality. As delicious a wine to look at as it is to taste.

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