Let’s face it, wine can be intimidating. Wine is one of those fields where it feels like someone with even a little more information than you can lord it over you and make you feel like a complete jack-ass. For the first installment of Wine 101 we thought we would focus on the different ways to hold a glass of wine to insure judgmental wine snobs don’t look at you like you’re an idiot. For the sake of argument we will leave proper selection of glassware out of the picture for now, but rest assured that we’ll eventually get there, too!
A typical wine glass is comprised of three major parts: the bowl, the stem, and the foot. Contrary to popular belief the bowl isn’t just for holding the liquid you are drinking; the vast majority of real estate in the bowl gets filled with the vapors escaping the wine. What is in those vapors, you ask? Oh, just 98% of the flavors that the wine will offer you! The stem’s sole purpose for existence is to give you something to grab without ham-fisting the bowl. The foot is what keeps the glass of wine from falling over when you set it down (though having a footless stem would be handy for picnicking on a lawn or a beach as you could simply impale the glass into the ground between sips! Maybe Riedel will make that line of glasses next?)
Grip #1: “The Novice”, a.k.a. “The Manhandler” (grabbing the bowl of the glass)
One of the greatest benefits of having a big, beautiful crystal wine glass is that you can very clearly visually inspect the wine you are drinking. There are a lot of subtle messages you can get from the appearance of the wine, from alcohol level to the climate that the grapes were grown in and even the general age of the wine. By putting your sweaty paws all over the viewing surface of the wine glass you will diminish your ability to accurately assess the visual character of the wine contained therein (did that sound convincingly lawyerly?). Any wine professional that sees you using this hold will instantly assume that you have no significant knowledge of wine, or that you are so doped up on Valium that this is the only way you can keep your drink from leaping out of your hands. Either way you will likely look like a clumsy oaf, so Not So Great.
Grip #2: “The Thermal Adjuster”, a.k.a. “The Sophomore” (cupping the bowl of the glass in your palm)
Another reason not to generally hold the bowl of the wine glass is to keep your body temperature from affecting the temperature of the wine in the glass. If a wine is served too cold for your liking (most white wines are served too cold for their own good in this country) then this grip is actually useful to slowly bring your beverage up to an acceptable temperature. When a sales rep brings a painfully cold white wine to a sitting Sommelier for their appraisal you will often see the Sommelier cup the glass with both hands and swirl the wine vigorously, like a rookie fortune teller with a Magic 8-Ball. This particular grip, however, is often abused by people who have seen people hold brandy snifters in the same way and think it looks cool. It does look cool, especially if you are a Latin dictator with a cigar in your other hand. It is also a very inappropriate way to hold your glass in most circumstances. Warm whites come across as “flabby” since the acidity (a mouth perception, unchanged by temperature) won’t hold up to the aromatic intensity of the warmer liquid (a nose perception, drastically altered by temperature), and even bold reds get too warm to be palatable at some point. Start by assuming that whoever served you the wine gave it to you at or near the correct temperature for consumption. If you are observed casually using this grip it will be assumed that you have watched a few movies about wine but haven’t really learned from them.
Grip #3; “The Connoisseur”, a.k.a. “The Upperclassman” (grabbing only the stem of the glass)
This is generally considered to be the official way to hold a wine glass. You are using every portion of the glass for what it was intended to do. A bit boring, yes, and also sometimes not quite the easiest grip to manage (especially if you have been using that hand at any point to hold greasy finger food), which brings me to my favorite grip:
Grip #4; “The Wine Geek”, a.k.a. “The Physicist” (grabbing the stem while hooking a finger or two beneath the foot)
This grip keeps your hand away from the bowl while giving you such a good grip that you can swirl your wine with impunity, releasing flavors that have been trapped inside the liquid in your glass. If you want to practice swirling it is recommended to start at home by filling a wine glass up to the widest part with water and swirling in a counter-clockwise motion (clockwise for lefties). A seasoned wine veteran that sees you using this grip (or Grip #3 for that matter) will assume that you have a strong fundamental knowledge of wine, or at least a well-pedigreed upbringing.
Grip #5; “The Wine Snob”, a.k.a. “The Pretentious Jerk” (pinching the foot between your thumb and forefinger)
Holding your glass by the foot alone implies that either: 1) You have a ridiculously high fever and are worried about your hand’s potential to boil your wine given indirect contact, or 2) You care so little about money that if you were to drop your glass your servants would clean it up for you and have a new glass of wine in your hand before you could even raise a single stern eyebrow. Howard Hughes might have used this grip after having touched a public handrail a week prior. Donald Trump might use this grip to drink his morning Doppio Espresso con Panna before tossing the spent glass into a roaring fireplace and mumbling “You’re Fired!” So in short if you want to look like a hypochondriac or megalomaniac this is the grip for you. Or if you just want to make people nervous.
Now that we have covered the basic grips for a wine glass you should feel empowered. Much of human communication is non-verbal, and you now understand the signals you have been broadcasting perhaps without even being aware of it! Please try some of these grips in the wild and let us know in the comments how it went.