Does The Glass Make a Difference?

Wine glasses are specifically shaped and sized for each particular type of wine.  White wine, having a much more subtle aroma and taste than a red wine, has a smaller bowl and mouth.  This is to better capture the aroma for the nose, as well as minimize the exposure to oxygen, so as not to release the more subtle flavour too quickly.

Bordeaux, Burgundy, Cabernet, Champagne, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, White, Zin

In addition to the standard white wine glass, there are also Chardonnay glasses.  These glasses are generally the same height as a standard white wine glass but the bowl and mouth are wider.  This is to allow the wine to be better oxygenated, resulting in a bolder bouquet and flavour for the pleasure of the drinker.

Sparkling wine glasses, or Champagne Flutes as they are often referred to, are much narrower and taller than white wine glasses.  This allows for further enhancement of the bouquet of the wine.  Also, by minimizing the surface area at the top of the glass, the bubbles will be more concentrated and last longer.

Red wine glasses vary in shape and size for the various varietals of grapes.  A Pinot Noir glass is tulip shaped containing a rather wide bowl before narrowing and then flaring wider at the mouth.   The theory is that this shape of glass provides for the optimum balance of sweetness, acidity and alcohol.

Zinfandel and Bordeaux glasses are very similar in shape and size with the Bordeaux glass being slightly taller.  These glasses are designed this way in order to allow the wines to breathe and enhance the flavour of the wine.  Given the strong similarity between the two glasses, personally, I doubt the average wine drinker, including myself,  would ever notice a difference if a Bordeaux was served in a Zin glass or vice versa.

The Cabernet glass is the tallest of all the wine glasses.  It has a slightly larger bowl and mouth than the other glasses mentioned.  The Cabernets, including Cabernet , Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as, Syrah or Shiraz, would benefit from being served in this style of glass.  The shape and size of this glass helps moderate the higher acid content of these wines, as well as allowing for the full bodied aromas to be released.

The most unique red glass is the Burgundy glass, which is shaped like a fish bowl with a wide bowl, basically no neck and a wide mouth.  The idea behind this glass is to enhance the acidity and intensity of Burgundy style wines.

For anyone opting to have a single red and white wine glass, I would recommend the standard white wine glass and the Cabernet glass. 

There are two common styles of wine glasses, stem and stemless.  Personally I prefer a glass with a stem so the heat from my hand is not transferred to the wine inside the glass.

There is a much argued debate over glass versus crystal.  There are those who say that a crystal glass provides much better flavour.  Personally, I would like to see that proven in a blind taste test.  I can see where psychologically if you know you are drinking from a $100 crystal glass versus a much less expensive glass vessel the psychological aspect may provide a more rewarding experience.  However, I am very sceptical and other than feeling the difference in the weight of the 2 glasses in your hand, I am not convinced the type of glass impacts the wine’s flavour as some suggest is the case.  However, after saying all this I do have an assortment of crystal wine stemware in the cupboard.

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France’s Wine Regions

People sometimes shy away from French wine because they are unable to determine what type of wine they are selecting.  No where will you see the varietal of grape identified.  This is because France identifies its wines using the Appellation System, a complex system of laws that define each wine region and its boundaries and imposes strict rules around winemaking practices.  

Most appellations take the form of place names, such as Champagne or Bordeaux. What this means is that the grapes grown in each region are consistent with all of the wine producers within that region.  This becomes the key to understanding what grapes are contained within a particular French wine.

Here is a brief explanation of what grapes are grown in each of the appellations.  Hopefully this will help you crack the code to identify the varietals found in French wines.


Alsace is the only French wine region to grow significant quantities of Riesling and Gewurztraminer grapes, as well as Pinot Gris.

Alsace Grand Cru wines are general only allowed to be made from these three varieties but may also contain some Muscat.

Chasselas, Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois are also grown although these three varietals tend to be used only in blends.

There are some red wines produced in the region as well, mainly from Pinot Noir.  Alsace Pinot Noirs are typically lighter-bodied and more rustic than the majority of Pinot Noir wines produced in France.


Bordeaux is produced in the southwest of France.  The majority of Bordeaux wines are the dry, medium- and full-bodied red Bordeaux Blends. There are some high-quality white wines as well, both dry styles and the sweet, botrytized varieties.  Botrytis is a type of fungus that generates sugar and sweetness in the grapes.

Most Bordeaux reds are made from a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Merlot is the most common red wine grape in Bordeaux, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and then Cabernet Franc. Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carmenère are also permitted, but only make up around two percent of the red grape total.

Bordeaux’s white wines are generally blends of Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle. Sauvignon Gris the only other white variety that is permitted.


The two key grape varieties of Burgundy are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Gamay and Aligote are also grown throughout the region, producing more rustic styles of wine. Gamay is used in the red and rosé wines.


Beaujolais is famous for its vibrant, fruity red wines made from Gamay.

Pinot Noir is used in small quantities in red and rosé wines, but is being phased out. Although best known for its red wines, the region also produces white Beaujolais Blanc, from Chardonnay and Aligote.


Champagne is the name of the world’s most famous sparkling wine. While it has been used to refer to sparkling wines from all over the world, Champagne is a legally controlled and restricted name.

Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay are the primary grape varieties used to make Champagne.

The key Champagne styles differ in their color, sweetness, base grape varieties, and whether they are the product of a single vintage or several (referred to as Non-Vintage). The whites may be either Blanc de Noirs (made from black-skinned grapes), Blanc de Blancs (made from green-skinned grapes) or just plain Blanc (made from any combination of the permitted varieties). Pink Champagne Rosé is made either by adding red wine to a white blend or sometimes by fermenting the juice in contact with the skins. These types all come with varying degrees of sweetness.


Cognac is the world’s most famous brandy.  It is graded in three official tiers, which reflect how long the spirit spent in barrel. VS (Very Special) is the lowest tier and means the brandy has been stored for a minimum of two years in casks. VSOP (Very Special Old Pale) is the middle tier and denotes Cognac that has been aged for at least four years. XO is the finest grade and is reserved exclusively for those cuvees aged for six years or more.


Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, located between the southeast coast of Provence and the west coast of Tuscany. Although it is closer to Italy, Corsica is governed by France. The island’s Italian origins are evident in its wines, which are made predominantly from the Italian classics Vermentino and Sangiovese.

Corsica’s wines have both a French and Italian influence. Pinot Noir, Grenache, Tempranillo and Barbarossa are all grown there alongside one another.

Grenache is a primary ingredient in many Corsican red wines and Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsaut and Carignan all play a variety of supporting roles.

The only white varietal is Vermentino/Rolle.

Coteaux du Lyonnais

These wines are of a lighter style similar to those produced in Beaujolais. The red wines are produced from Gamay grapes.

A small amount of white wine is made from Chardonnay and Aligoté. Occasionally some Pinot Blanc is added to the blend. These are traditionally dry, floral styles, some of which are matured in oak barrels for up to a year to produce a slightly more structured, weighty version.


Jura is a small wine region in eastern France.

The five main grape varieties used in the region are Poulsard, a red grape which accounts for about one-fifth of the region’s plantings; Trousseau, the other local red variety, covers only the warmest 5% of Jura’s vineyards; White Savagnin, which is responsible for the idiosyncratic vins jaunes (‘yellow wines’);  Pinot Noir; and Chardonnay.

Dry white wines are also made in Jura, increasingly from Chardonnay as are dry red wines produced from Pinot Noir.


The Loire Valley is a key wine region in western France.

White wines are the Loire Valley’s best wines, and account for the vast majority of production. The key white-wine grape varieties used to make Loire Valley whites are Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and, more popular than traditional, Chardonnay.

Loire reds are of increasingly high quality.  The number one red-wine variety is Cabernet Franc. Lighter-bodied red wines are made from Pinot Noir, Malbec (known here as Côt) and Gamay.


Moselle is an appellation covering white, red and rosé wines.  While Auxerrois Blanc, Muller-Thurgau and Pinot Gris are the principal varieties set out in the appellation law, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Blanc are permitted in the white wines in limited amounts.

The reds must be made entirely of Pinot Noir, but Moselle rosés may have a proportion of Gamay.


Provence is a wine region in the far southeastern corner of France, best known for its rosé wines.

Traditional varieties such as Carignan, Barbaroux (Sardinia’s Barbarossa) and Calitor are being replaced by more commercially viable grapes like Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The more successful local varieties Mourvèdre, Tibouren and Vermentino are incorporated in Provence’s red, rosé and white wines respectively.


The Rhône Valley is a key wine-producing region in the southeast of France.  The smaller, more quality-driven northern section focuses on Syrah for red wines and Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne for whites.  The larger south region contains a much longer list of varieties; the most notable of these are the red Grenache Syrah and Mourvedre, which are combined to produce the ‘GSM’ blend.


Savoie is a wine region in eastern France.  Around three-quarters of the region’s wines are white.  Jacquère is the most widely planted white grape variety.  Altesse, known traditionally here as Roussette, is used to produce some of Savoie’s finer wines.

As in many other areas of France, Chardonnay is increasingly being planted in Savoie. It is used in still and sparkling wines.

Although Savoie is dominated by white wines, it does have a standout red variety, Mondeuse. Gamay and Pinot Noir are also grown. These are lighter in style than their respective counterparts in Beaujolais and Burgundy.

Personally, I am most attracted to the reds of the Rhône.  I find them to be very versatile, being both full bodied and flavourful while at the same time being smooth.  They are suitable for pairing with a favourite meal or simply enjoyed on their own.

No matter what your likes or dislikes, don’t allow yourself to be intimidated by foreign wine labels.  Be adventurous and go exploring.

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Wine Tours

Whether you conduct a self-guided wine region tour or partake in a guided tour offered by a local tour guide company depends on your personal preference. A tour company they will offer travel to a predetermined list of wineries by one of a various means of transportation, limo, bus or even bicycle.

If you elect the self-guided option, be sure to get a good map before striking out on your adventure.   

The advantage of the second option is that, if you are not familiar with the area and/or the wineries themselves, this method can be easy and non-stressful.  However, if you are familiar or prefer a more individualized experience with less likelihood of a crowd, then the first option is probably better for you.

A number of the larger wineries offer tours of their facility where a staff member will guide you through the winery and explain the process of making the various types of wine they produce.  It is beneficial to go on a tour as it will provide information that will help with your understanding of different varietals and wine making processes.  This information may be beneficial when making wine selections.

I suggest taking a tour at one of the larger facilities as they will most likely make both reds and whites, as well as use more than one fermentation process.

At the conclusion of the tour I also suggest partaking in a wine tasting if offered.  During the tasting the staff will review each wine and you will be able to relate back to the process used to create that wine.  This will help give a better understanding of how the various flavours are created.  Ultimately this may serve useful when you are staring at the shelves at your local wine merchant trying to decide which wine to purchase.

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Wineries: Up Close & Personal

Not all wineries have their products distributed for sale at your local wine merchant.  This may be because the winery does not produce the minimum prescribed quantity to enable distribution.  In other cases it may be a conscious decision by the vintner where they prefer to sell a certain wine or vintage at their own facility.  Thus without actually visiting the winery you may be missing out on some of the wine world’s best kept secrets.

There are other reasons for visiting a winery.  No one knows their wines better than those who make them.  Well informed staff can explain the process used to make each of their wines, as well as the varietal composition, cellaring capability, and food pairing suggestions.

You will usually have the opportunity to taste the various wines on offer.  I can’t think of a better way to determine whether a particular wine is to your personal liking.

I have had some very enjoyable experiences, as well as some not so pleasant ones.  The common denominator of a rewarding winery experience is having good interaction with knowledgeable and pleasant staff that are willing to spend the time to answer questions and listen to what you are looking for.   As a result, on several occasions I have gone to a specific winery in search of one wine but after some discussion I have happily left with a different one.

When I am planning a visit to either Niagara or Prince Edward County, I do my research and plan ahead as to which wineries I want to visit and in many cases, which wines I am interested in purchasing.  Otherwise, with about 100 wineries on offer in Niagara and another 40 in the County, I would be wandering aimlessly in my search. 

A winery may make it onto my list for several different reasons.  I may have heard about a specific wine that intrigues me; I may be simply looking to restock my cellar with a certain wine that I have previously enjoyed; I may research wine reviews and make some decisions based on what the experts have to say; or as in the case of a recent trip, I may be in search of a wine that my wife and I enjoyed in an area restaurant. 

In situations where I have visited based on reviewer opinions, sometime I have gone in search of a specific wine but in others I may have been intrigued by the winery itself.  In the case of the latter, the staff’s knowledge and expertise is most important to ensure a successful experience.

If nothing else, it is a good idea to search out which wineries have a restaurant so you can plan to be somewhere food is served when hunger pangs hit.  Many of these restaurants offer a unique experience in themselves as they will often pair their wines with the various menu items.

I often travel to the wine regions during the off-season, avoiding the period from Victoria Day to Labour Day.  This way there are less likely to be crowds and winery staff will have more time to answer questions and make suggestions, making the experience more rewarding and enjoyable.

When touring the various wineries you will see that the wineries themselves are unique from one another in appearance, ranging from very modest and plain, to rustic, to extremely elaborate.   Keep in mind that appearances can be deceiving.  I have purchased great wines from barns and cinderblock shacks located along obscure lanes and paths.  Remember it is the vintner behind the scene who puts the quality in the bottle.

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