It may sound silly, we know, but the way you hold your wine glass can have a massive effect on how you enjoy your wine.
We won’t deny that it can feel very comfortable to hold a wine glass by the bowl — tucking it in between your fingers and cradling it in the palm. But while it may feel sturdier and a touch less pretentious, it can also negatively affect the aromas and delicacy of a wine.
The biggest reason to hold the stem is because your hands are warm. Temperature is an important part of fully experiencing a wine, and holding the glass by the stem ensures that the wine will stay at the proper temperature for longer. Exposure to your palms can heat the wine, causing the alcohol to evaporate at a faster pace. This can result in your wine getting duller more quickly, making it harder to find the more nuanced, complex flavors within it. In fact, some finicky somms may actually cup the bowl intentionally if they’re served a red wine that’s too cold.
Grasping a wine glass by the stem also makes it easier to swirl your wine. Swirling wine allows the liquid to open up, releasing its aromas as it makes contact with oxygen. When holding a glass by its bowl, your arm is stifled, and the glass can only move in short waves. Gripping the stem makes the glass an extension of the hand, making it easier to have wider, more elegant, and controlled swirls with little worry of splashing all over yourself.
The most Miss Manners-approved reason to hold the glass by the stem is to prevent smudging or leaving fingerprints on the bowl. For sommeliers, smudges on a glass can affect visual assessments of a wine, making it difficult to deduct clues on the aging process. For the more casual sipper, creating fingerprints on a glass is more of an etiquette qualm. After repeatedly picking up your glass, setting it down, and switching hands, you are doomed to have quite the collection of greasy marks.
So if your wine glass has a stem, use it to your benefit. Hold the glass a little bit lower than you think, toward the base of the stem in between the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger to maintain control of the glass — ensuring the wine stays in the glass and not on your clothes — and to enjoy your wine in its peak form.