Bottom Line/Personal: Somehow it seems that when you’re drinking wine, it’s not just about having a drink…it’s about the whole process. Which glass are you supposed to use? It can be incredibly confusing. And do you really need just the right glass for just the right wine?

I’m Sarah Hiner, president of Bottom Line Publications, and this is our Conversation With the Experts, where we get the answers to your tough questions from our leading experts.

Today I’m talking to Amy Dixon. Amy is the former buyer and fine wine expert at Stew Leonard’s wine stores, one of the top 10 retailers for wine in the country. She is currently managing a portfolio of fine wine collectors at Nicholas Roberts Fine Wines in Darien, Connecticut.

Amy lost 98% of her eyesight in 2007. Now, in addition to being a wine expert, she is a paratriathlete on Team USA, and she’s also on the watch list for their cycling team. You can learn more about Amy and all of her cycling and wine expertise at BlogSpot.BlindSommelier.com. Welcome, Amy.

Amy Dixon: Thanks for having me.

Bottom Line: It really is confusing—or they want it to be confusing. I don’t know how many glasses there are in terms of –

Dixon: Dozens and dozens, yes.

Bottom Line: Does it matter?

Dixon: Yes, it absolutely does. Your palate has a structure, and your taste buds have different points. You’ve got sweet, salty, bitter, sour, etc., on your palate. Wine glasses that are properly engineered are going to put a particular wine on the part of your palate that best accentuates that wine.

But you don’t have to get as geeked out as that. You really don’t. At the end of the day, there’s some really simple rules that you can follow.

Bottom Line: There’s actually the shape—we’ve got some samples of glasses here, and we’ll go through the different ones and what they apply to. But it’s really the shape of the glass…the architecture of the glass determines where that fits on your mouth?

Dixon: Absolutely. George Riedel, the founder of Riedel Wine Glasses, one of the leading wineglass companies, he was a very, very smart man, and he engineered the glasses to specifically direct the type of wine that you’re drinking to the particular taste buds that the particular wine affects. So that’s a really, really smart way to do it. He followed some hard-and-fast rules of Burgundy wineglasses versus Bordeaux wineglasses versus Champagne glasses and really took it to a whole another level.

But you don’t really have to spend the money to have a bunch of different glasses. If you have two or three good wineglasses in your cabinet, you’re pretty set.

Bottom Line: All right, let’s talk about red wines first. How many glasses? What’s the right kind of glass that you need for red wines?

Dixon: If you have it in your budget, and depending upon the number of people in your household and how many people you’re entertaining, you really want to have two different types of red wine glasses. There’s a Burgundy glass and a Bordeaux glass.

Right here, we have our Burgundy glass, and you’ll see that it’s got a fatter bowl. This is called the bowl, and this is called the stem, and this is called the foot of your wineglass. So that is a little bit fatter and rounder, and that is made for Pinot Noir, specifically from the region of Burgundy, though Pinot Noir from anywhere can absolutely go in this glass. It’s not sacrilegious, I promise you. The glass won’t burst on you. But it really is engineered to give you a wider bowl and more of a bouquet for that particular wine.

Now, this is a Bordeaux glass, and this is engineered for Cabernet or Merlot, which are the primary grapes that are used in blending Bordeaux. And you’ll see it has a larger bowl and a taller bowl, and it’s got a little bit more of a focused nose, and that’s going to drive the aromas to a certain part of your nose as well.

Bottom Line: Why is it that the shape of this—where does that hit my tongue versus that one?

Dixon: Well, that is a very good question for somebody who is an expert in biology. Primarily speaking, you’re going to look at more fruity components in a Pinot Noir and much higher acid in Cabernet, tannic acid.

Bottom Line: And if somebody doesn’t even have the budget for the two of them? Which one, if they had to pick just one red wineglass…

Dixon: If you have to do one red wineglass, I would always go with a Bordeaux or Chianti glass. A Chianti glass looks identical to this, but it’s just slightly smaller.

Bottom Line: And how about white wines?

Dixon: White wine, there’s a variety of white wineglasses. This red Burgundy glass can also be used for white Burgundy, which is 100% Chardonnay, or Chardonnay from Burgundy.

But honestly, I prefer to use a Sauvignon Blanc–style glass, which is this. It is a good all-purpose glass for both red and white. You’ll see it’s almost a scaled-down version of your Bordeaux stem. It’s a smaller size…it’s got a nice size bowl…and if you’re filling up your wine more than that, you’re in big trouble. But I really think it’s a good shape for condensing the aromas to a good part of your nose and putting the flavors onto your palate that you’re going to get in most wine.

Bottom Line: I had heard at some point that holding the glass by the stem versus by the bowl affects it as well. So you want to…

Dixon: Absolutely, because are your hands hot or cold? Well, depends upon the person, right? But generally speaking, our hands are going to be warm because our wine is going to come out of a wine refrigerator or a basement or a cellar at a proper temperature of 57°.

Once you put your body heat, which is 98.6°, onto that glass, you’re immediately changing the wine, because now all those aromas are escaping the glass much faster because wine is evaporating. So you want to avoid touching any part of the bowl, and you always want to hold by the stem.

Bottom Line: No matter what.

Dixon: No matter what.

Bottom Line: Whether it’s white or red wine.

Dixon: Absolutely. The only time you want to touch a bowl is when it’s cognac in your glass…or brandy.

Bottom Line: In which case it’s got a short stem.

Dixon: Right, exactly.

Bottom Line: All right, and how about the fine Champagne glasses?

Dixon: Champagne flutes are wonderful. I really am a fan of this size. I don’t like the flat bowls that were traditionally used in the ’70s, because all those wonderful, delicious, and delicate bubbles are escaping faster than you could possibly consume them, and that’s just no fun. So this is a wonderful way to trap the bubbles in your glass and condense the aromas and the flavors right to your nose.

There’s a little bit of an argument regarding the shape of Champagne stems, whether it should be fluted slightly out or condensed like this particular stem. Honestly, I do like a straighter stem. It’s just a matter of personal preference.

Bottom Line: And it’s very slight. We’ve got some samples on the screen.

Dixon: Yes. You’ll see on the right, we’ve got a traditional Champagne flute, and on the left is another Champagne flute, but that just has a wider, more trumpeted bowl to it. And I really do like that style, because it tends to be more versatile.

Bottom Line: It’s also easier to drink out of.

Dixon: Yes, faster. Much faster. Expediting the wine to your palate.

Bottom Line: Now, how about glass versus crystal, and how fine does it have to be?

Dixon: There’s a lot of good producers that are making unleaded crystal now that is dishwasher-safe. Stolzle, Zalto, there’s Spiegelau, really good producers of unleaded crystal out there. These real glasses are lovely, but they’re very, very delicate, and if you have any experience with hand-washing them, the stems can sometimes snap right off, and there’s $30 down the tube for one glass. That can be heartbreaking if you only have four or six of them. So I like a good dishwasher-safe stem.

And also, there’s actually some that are leaded with titanium, believe it or not, that are shatterproof.

Bottom Line: Wow.

Dixon: Yeah.

Bottom Line: Are there any plastic ones?

Dixon: I’m a beachgoer in summertime, and I like to bring a nice bottle of Rosé with me to the beach and I don’t want to bring my good wine stems. But I refuse to drink out of a Solo cup. There’s a great product called Govino. It’s exactly this shape that we see here in our Bordeaux stem, but it’s got a little thumbprint area.They are made out of acrylic. And they’re wonderful. They’re dishwasher-safe…they’re super easy to use—you just throw them in the cooler and off you go. I love them.

Bottom Line: I have to say, one of my least favorite things is washing wineglasses. So if I can have plastic, that’s a beautiful thing.

Dixon: Absolutely. And here’s a good rule of thumb as far as keeping your stemware in good condition—never use soap in a wineglass, because it leaves a residue. I always recommend keeping a shaker of baking soda next to the sink and only wash your glasses with baking soda. It will leave no spots, and it’ll leave no residue.

Bottom Line: How do you get the lipstick off the edges?

Dixon: Little elbow grease.

Bottom Line: Does the temperature of the water matter?

Dixon: Obviously with fine crystal, you never want to wash it in very, very hot water, which is why a lot of them are not dishwasher-safe. As a rule of thumb, I try to wash most of them by hand, but every now and then, if I’m getting really lazy and it’s a late night after a bunch of friends have left with several bottles of wine, they end up in the dishwasher. But I try to be conscientious and use my baking soda and wash them by hand.

Bottom Line: That’s great advice. How about how much do you fill the glass? It’s tempting—some of these glasses really hold a lot of liquid.

Dixon: And they’re not designed to be filled. They are not. They’re really designed to be—at the fattest part of the bowl, that is where you should stop pouring, as a rule of thumb. So look for the beginning of the fattest part of the bowl, and that’s the fill line.

And that’s going to exactly allow you enough room to swirl, so you want to swirl your wine without it sloshing out. Anything above that, the wine’s going to slosh out. And it’s really designed to be filled to that level.

Bottom Line: All right, great advice. Thank you. Amy Dixon, the Blind Sommelier. The bottom line on wineglasses? Yeah, it really does make a difference. But it’s mostly about the shape, quite frankly. If you have to buy just one glass and only one glass, buy a Sauvignon Blanc glass because that can actually work for the whites and the reds.

Here’s a tip about cleaning—use baking soda. Don’t use soap, because it’ll leave a film on the glass. This is Sarah Hiner with Bottom Line Publications.