Wine Glass Stems & Why Height Matters

Wine Glass Stems & Why Height Matters

Jump to: Why Do Glasses Have Stems? | Standard Height in Inches | Short vs. Long-Stemmed Glasses

When shopping for stemware, there is no shortage of options. But while shape and dimension are the most common considerations, one oft-overlooked aspect of wine glasses is their height. Just as the width and curve of the glass’ bowl will impact your drinking experience, so, too, can the stem size and height of the wine glass. 

In this article, we’ll focus on stems exclusively and discuss how their design affects the wine you enjoy!

Why Do Wine Glasses Have Stems?

The standard vessel for drinking wine has improved significantly since the leather cups (called “piggins”) we used in the Middle Ages. In fact, today’s glassware is likely seven times larger than those used in the 1700s—equating a single glass by today’s standards to 14 servings worth of alcohol!

“The wine glasses as we know today were first made in the 17th century to the late 18th century”, David Masifon reports. And while the stem-and-bowl design of 21st century glassware is more sophisticated, it serves the same essential functions. 

Aside from decoration, there are two reasons that wine glasses have stems:

  1. Stems allow for swirling. Proper swirling, that is, with two fingers on the foot guiding the glass in tight, counterclockwise circles on a flat, sturdy surface. The act of swirling agitates the wine, which heightens both flavor expression and aroma.
  2. Stems help maintain temperature. The proximity of your hand to the glass can generate enough body heat to warm its contents—especially on a hot summer day or in contrast with a cold blast of AC. This is why we always hold wine glasses by the stem, not the bowl. Although less of a concern with reds, whites and sparkling wines can be quite temperature-sensitive, and will be much more enjoyable if kept closest to their optimal serving temperature.

A Note on Stemless Glassware

Wine glass design continues to evolve in various ways. One recent development is the invention of the stemless wine glass, designed largely for convenience and ease-of-use. 

Stemmed glasses are notoriously top-heavy, and are extremely easy to tip over. Stemless wine glasses, on the other hand, are easier to handle. They’re also the more economical choice, as they can be used to serve spirits and other refreshments. We offer more insights on the stemmed vs. stemless glass debate in this post.

What’s an Average Wine Glass Height?

The average wine glass is 6-10 inches tall, with some variation for specialty glasses.

Red wine glasses are often just slightly taller than white wine glasses. Depending on the manufacturer, they often have larger bowls to concentrate the wines’ aroma. Most red wine glasses stand around 8 inches tall.

White wine glasses tend to be a bit shorter, and feature slightly smaller bowls. Most white wine glasses are 6-7 inches tall

Short-stemmed glasses, like snifters or port glasses, are typically 5-6 inches tall. 

Why Use Short vs. Long-Stemmed Wine Glasses?

Short-stemmed glasses offer a few benefits over long-stemmed glasses:

  1. More stability. It’s more difficult to knock over a short-stemmed glass. The center of gravity is lower, making them less prone to tipping, and their height makes it easier to clear while gesticulating or passing dishes over a shared meal. This is especially true when enjoying a dessert wine at the end of a few glasses/courses!
  2. Easier to hold. Drinkers with dexterity issues may feel more secure with a short-stemmed glass.
  3. Allow for warmth. When tasting certain spirits like aged brandy, you may actually want your hand to warm the glass slightly. 
  4. Easier to care for. Long-stemmed glasses don’t always fit easily into the dishwasher (if they even fit at all!) And the longer and thinner the stem, the more fragile the glass. Washing, drying and storing glassware is a more delicate task with long-stemmed bowls.

On the other hand, there are many reasons why you might prefer wine glasses with long or extra-long stems. After all, the stem is the standard!

  1. Easier swirling. Swirling is not impossible with stemless or short-stemmed glassware, but it sure is difficult. Generally speaking, the longer the stem of a glass is, the easier it is to swirl. 
  2. Greater depth. Especially with reds, the ability to accurately swirl the glass’ contents can enormously impact the quality and characteristics of the wine. You won’t get the same aromas, breath or level of complexity without a stem to conduct the tasting.
  3. Less smudging. Purists abhor the thought of touching or holding the bowl of the glass while drinking, as this may produce fingerprints and smudges. The stem height of your average wine glass prevents the need for any unwanted contact—from the sommelier, server or consumer.

Shop for Glassware with Wine Enthusiast 

Whether you’re looking for traditional or novelty-style glasses, Wine Enthusiast has the perfect selection to meet your needs. Take a look around our site and don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions you may have!

From his first sips of wicker basket Chianti at his grandfather’s dinner table to a 1986 Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, Tilden knew that there was something magical about wine. He earned his Diploma in Wine and Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators. Having been with Wine Enthusiast catalog since 2005, when he is not writing about wine he also runs the wine storage division and is head of W.E.’s in-house education program.