There are many ways to hold a wine glass and it really comes down to whatever each person is most comfortable with. Having just said that there is a proper way to hold a wine glass if you are looking for etiquette in wine appreciation.
“Most” wine glasses have 4 parts:
Base – this flat round bottom supports the glass and provides stability when on any surface.
Bowl – this is where the wine gets poured into and holds the wine.
Stem – this connects the bowl to the base and gives the drinker a place to hold the glass. Some wine
glasses are stemless.
Rim – this is where you sip from, upper edge of the bowl.
First, lets cover the proper way to hold a wine glass with a stem. Basically, the most correct way to hold a wine glass is by holding the stem between your and thumb and first two fingers (index finger & second finger). The other two fingers can rest on the base for support, stability and comfort over extended periods.
It’s best to hold lower on the stem closer to the base than the bowl. Some people like to hold the stem with just their thumb and index finger with the other fingers free, but this doesn’t offer as much stability or support and can more easily be knocked out of your hand. Some people like to hold the base with their thumb and index finger, but it is difficult to put down quickly because part of the hand is under the base.
The most important reason for properly holding a white wine glass by the stem is so that your body temperature does not change the temperature in the glass. If you warm up your wine, it can change the flavour & quality and it becomes less appetizing to drink.
Holding by the stem to avoid temperature swings applies more directly to wines that are intended to be served chilled such as sparkling, rose or white wine.
Red wine is typically served at room temperature, but it is still proper to hold a red wine glass by the stem. Unless of course if it is too cold and you are trying to warm it up, that is a justifiable exception to hold by the bowl. Cupping the bowl will warm the wine quicker if it is too cold. It still however is not proper to hold the bowl of a wine glass that has a stem.
Another important reason for holding your white wine or red wine glass by the stem is to avoid fingerprints or smudges on the bowl of the glass — Often people are eating while sipping wine and it just makes a wine glass messy whey you see smudge marks all over it. It also makes it more difficult to appreciate the vibrant colour and brightness of the wine.
When you are drinking wine out of a stemless glass or tumbler, just hold it the way you would a regular drinking glass. Holding closer to the base is better. Drinking from the same side also is a good method to minimize fingerprints and smudging. If you don’t want to warm your white wine, then just try to minimize contact by placing it down often. A stemless glass is better on a boat or in the wind because of its lower gravity and therefore stability.
It does matter how much wine you pour into your glass because if the wine is too full you will not be able to swirl and you will miss the unique aroma nuances of the wine. The rule of thumb is to fill red wine glasses one third full as it needs a lot of air to breathe.
For white and rose wine glasses, filling the bowl half full is appropriate. Sparkling wines can be filled ¾ full, as there is less need for breathing.
Most importantly, drinking wine should be an enjoyable experience so hold it however you feel most comfortable. And hey, at least now you know a few tips on what is most proper.
Katherine McEachnie, DipWSET