There’s no doubt that stemmed glassware remains the standard. So how did it get its shape, and why do wine glasses have a stem?

The architecture of stemware

A modern wine glass consists of three architectural features: the bowl, the stem, and the base.

The bowl is based on three variables – shape, size, and rim diameter – to translate the “message” of wine to the human senses.

The height of the stem and the width of the base are critical to creating a balanced and enjoyable glass to hold. Your glass doesn’t necessarily have to feature a very long or extra thin stem, as long as it is in proportion to its base.

How glassware got its shape

This style of glass for wine originated in the 1400s, in the world’s capital of glassmaking, Venice. Wine previously was drunk from a variety of different cups, made from anything from wood to leather, pottery to pewter.

glass blower shaping a glass goblet on his lap while hot

The discovery and use of cristallo glass on the island of Murano in Venice, which was the first colourless glass, elevated the look of glassware. The basic form of the modern glass is said to have been based on the religious chalice, which comprised of the bowl, stem, base architecture as we know it now. But the stem also had the advantage of protecting wine’s temperature from the tradition of cupping hands around the bowl.

A stem helps you swirl wine

Swirling wine is a common part of wine drinking for many people, but there is a common misconception about why we do it. Many believe it’s for aeration, like a one-glass version of decanting, but a swirl isn’t vigorous enough to have the same affect.

Hand sommelier holding glass of red wine. Swirling wine glass in wine tastings Red wine concept. Wine tour. Space for text.

So why do we swirl wine? Swirling wine is really just to help invigorate aromas within your glass. This small movement will heighten the intensity of aroma and give you a better expression of flavour.

Either way, a stemmed glass is much easier to elegantly swirl than one without.

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