Fun with wine glass shapes

With every weekly thread about glass shape, I am always trying to understand how shape impacts what we perceive. With the cool designs introduced on Berserker Day, and another ongoing thread on the next design in that series, I wanted to try and see if I could come up with something quantitative that might offer some explanation of why people prefer one glass over another (I had already started noodling on this a few weeks ago, Berserker Day just spurred me to get it done). So this is just the musings of a now retired science guy, who no longer has a lab to do real work in, so spends time generating what may or may not be useless data lol.

Thinking about what people look for in a glass, the conventional wisdom usually circles around volume, and “funneling aromas”. Frankly, some of this conventional wisdom has always seemed a little backward to me: A larger bowl should in theory need more volatiles to “fill it up”, and reach the opening. I’ve scratched my head to come up with some ways to quantitate this, and the three metrics I end up with are 1) volume of the space above the liquid surface, 2) surface area of the surface (possibly to include some increased area exposed by swirling), and 3) the height of the opening above the surface. There are others, like the size of the opening (though, as you’ll see, diameter at the lip of most conventional glassware is remarkably similar), but these are the easiest to model.

I chose a range of glass shapes, not trying to pick on anyone, but because they offered detailed shape and size info that I needed. For each shape, I used this web site PlotDigitizer Online App to manually “digitize” the outline of the glass, like this:

Here are all the shapes. I used Fu and Kane’s Glassvin shapes, three Grassl shapes, and the Riedel Overture, which is a glass I often use for wine dinners because it’s fairly small.

Dumped the shape data for each glass into Excel, and did some calculating: Volume of the air space as a function of fill level, surface area at different fill levels, height above the surface to the rim as a function of fill level, etc. From that, I derived the ratio of air space volume to surface area (which should be some measure of how much volume volatile compounds have to occupy, and the surface area from which they can escape). I wondered what happens when you swirl wine in your glass, so made an effort to compute the additional surface exposed to swirling wine, assuming you swirl gently about 2 cm above the static liquid level. Here’s what that data looks like for @CFu 's Berserker Day glass:

These graphs are plotted vs fill height, which is one way to look at it, though later I use ounces of fill along the X-axis, which I think is easier to think about. Blue is the shape, green is the fill volume. Yellow is the ratio of empty volume above the surface, to surface area of the static liquid, and red adds the swirl area to that static area. You can see that there isn’t a big difference in the added surface area from swirling (red vs. yellow curves). Let’s come back to how to interpret the yellow and red curves.

Here’s a similar plot of the Berserker Day “Kane” glass @K_John_Joseph

What does it all mean? It’s a little hard to say. I guess conventional wisdom would say you want the ratio of air volume to liquid surface area to be a smaller number. The trouble is, that number depends strongly on how full the glass is. With just a little wine in the bottom, it literally shoots off the charts. As you fill with more wine, that ratio drops, and the shape of that drop depends on the shape of the glass. The more extreme shape of the Fu glass is followed by the more extreme shape of the Volume/Area ratio, though note that with a modest 2 oz pour, or a typical 4 oz pour, the ratio is pretty high in the Fu. Maybe this isn’t the right metric? I don’t know, it’s what I was able to come up with.

Here’s the graph of volume/area ratio for all the glass shapes:

The big takeaway, for me, is that the metric changes a lot as you drink from the glass. For every shape, once you start drinking and lowering the fill level, that glass, in theory, gets worse and worse. My second conclusion, at least based on this metric, is that larger volume glasses are not necessarily “better”. They have a larger volume for volatile compounds to expand into, and the exposed surface area doesn’t increase proportionally. With the caveat that this is just one way to look at it.

I’ve also wondered if a big factor in how we perceive a wine is not so much glass shape (apart from the psychological factor), but simply how far the wine is from your nose, i.e., the height of the opening above the liquid level. And for grins, I assume there is some benefit to how much surface area is exposed. I plotted that ratio of surface area to height:

Here, I’ll postulate you want a bigger number. Larger surface area for volatiles to escape from, and a smaller distance for them to travel to get out of the glass, and into your nose. For that, The Fu excels, and other larger bowl shapes also do well; while the taller, skinnier shapes like Liberte have smaller ratios, and a really small glass like the Overture comes out on the bottom, in the 2-4 oz range where we typically drink.

So there you have it, my contribution to the confusion of glass shapes :wink: Not meant to be definitive in any way, just one way to look at things.


Plz summarize what you have said.

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When you swirl the wine, does a layer of liquid adhere to the area up the sides of the glass even after the bulk of the wine has settled back in the bowl? Does that adhered layer of wine aromatize off the glass above and beyond what sits at the top of the volume of settled (or moving) wine? Does this belong in the model? Sorry, Alan; I don’t have any answers - just questions.

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This might be the first time anyone described an Excel workout as “fun”.

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Joe, that’s exactly what the “swirl” are is meant to account for. I just assume it’s there long enough for volatiles to escape. But even then, it’s a minor addition to the static surface, and doesn’t change things much. Probably safe to say that it changes things less than my modeling suggests.

I assume you were trying to optimize something about the shape with your design? This just tries to quantify whatever that is lol.

How much empty volume is there above the wine? How much surface area is exposed to evaporate volatile compounds? The ratio of those two values is the yellow curve in your graph (and dark blue in the later graph).

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This is pretty cool Alan! Thinking about it, of course it would make sense that as you drink and change the level of the wine, the behavior of the volatile compounds would change. Clearly you have a lot of time on your hands!

But most intriguing was this:

[quote=“Alan_Rath, post:1, topic:297013”]
A larger bowel should in theory need more volatiles to “fill it up”[/quote]

I don’t know about that. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that you will get plenty of volatiles for the bowel if you go with the lengua burrito from Elsie’s with the refried beans and you use both little containers of her homemade green salsa.


My take-away: Keep your glass full for maximum enjoyment.

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lol, fixed.

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“in conclusion” lol


Anything and everything one can do with excel is fun!

I honestly enjoyed a lot reading that much wine/Excel geekery crammed into one post!



Does your assessment methodology basically indicate that your ideal glass would be a very wide, very short bowl with a very aggressive taper to a narrow top opening?

so the coupe is the winner?

no because opening too wide, so no funnel effect.


I’m a little worried about Alan, everyone.

Always Sunny Reaction GIF

Some stray thoughts on this very interesting topic.

I’ve noticed that some aggressive tapers can make it hard for the liquid to flow to the mouth without tipping the glass so much you risk getting wine all over your shirt. (I don’t think drinking from an Erlenmeyer flask or a round bottom flask is enjoyable.)

I also like to be able to get my nose into the glass when I drink, not just to sniff. So the opening can’t be that narrow (the big issue with most champagne flutes).

If maximizing total aroma capture were the only concern, an ideal universal glass would be always best. But I think you want to maximize some aromatics and minimize others, and the ones you want depend on the wine. So perhaps the volatility or density (absolute and relative) of the different compounds matters.

@Alan_Rath, thank you for this. Theoretically, what would the graphs look like for a cylinder (or a few with increasing diameters), an inverted cone (or maybe a few different ones by angle, including a typical martini glass), a half sphere, and a couple of more increasingly-complete spheres?

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Having data is always a good thing, but that doesn’t always make it easier to analyze a problem lol. I think there are two conclusions:

If you pour a glass, and just let it sit there static, no touching, no swirling, then a shallow, wide, short bowl is best for getting the volatile compounds to the opening.

If you pour, let sit, pick up, swirl, i.e., normal drinking, then I think an intermediate glass, with decent surface area for a normal pour, and not too much upper bowl volume, is the best compromise. Your glass fits this, and the Liberte I drink out of is very similar.

Something to consider, going back a few years to my lectures on diffusion :nerd_face: Even gas molecules take quite a while to diffuse across a space, in the absence of any bulk motion (a breeze, a hand waving nearby, or pushing air around during the swirling motion). In a completely static glass of wine, volatile compounds will take up to several minutes to transit from the surface to the lip, depending on exactly how far that is, and how big the molecules are. When you pick up the glass, you push air around inside the bowl; when you swirl, that effect is even stronger. It’s a complex problem, and my little graphs can only go so far to describe it.

In the end, I come back to my general recommendation to drink from a glass that makes you happy :slightly_smiling_face:

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I think that’s true, because in practice all the volatiles just blow away in any tiny air movement, there is no bowl to contain them.

Your first point is consistent with my comments on diffusion: wine is a complex thing, and how we perceive it is even more complex. Different compounds traveling faster or slower, and having different impacts on our senses, makes it impossible to design some “perfect” drinking glass. Though I think it’s useful to try and describe the general principles, and help folks think about different factors.

About to take off for a few days of R&R, sans laptop, but when I return I’m happy to plug in a few more shapes to compare.


Plot this, keeping in mind that when you are sipping under one chamber, each of the other two is under a nostril. (Messing with you)