How to Hold a Wine Glass Properly, and Why It Matters | Wine Enthusiast
Wine bottle illustration Displaying 0 results for
Suggested Searches
Articles & Content

How to Hold a Wine Glass Properly, and Why It Matters

“When I first started to drink wine, I would drink it like Kerry Washington in Scandal,” shares sommelier and Wine Enthusiast Tasting Director Anna-Christina Cabrales. With hands clasped around the glass’s bowl, Washington’s character Olivia Pope looks like she’s gripping a steaming mug of hot chocolate. “Now, I just want to correct the girl,” Cabrales laments. “You’re drinking first-growth Bordeaux like a child.”

Perhaps the small screen isn’t the best resource for learning the ropes. Because yes, there is a proper way to hold a wine glass—and it matters.

Whether you’re looking to dive deeper into the wine world or fine-tune your skills, here is everything you need to know to hold your next glass of wine like a pro.

You May Also Like: How to Store Wine Properly, and Why It Matters

white wine glass

From the Shop

Find Your Wine a Home

Our selection of wine glasses is the best way to enjoy the wine’s subtle aromas and bright flavors.

How You Hold Your Wine Glass Matters

Before learning how to properly hold your wine glass, it’s important to understand why you do so.

“You don’t buy a really nice car to put cheap wheels on it,” says Cabrales, “You’re not going to get the same drive.”

The same is true for wine. Handling your glass properly helps get the most out of your wine experience for three main reasons:

1. It Preserves the Wine’s Temperature

Your hands—especially your palms—give off heat. Therefore, holding a wine glass with too much skin contact can alter the wine’s temperature, which is critical for bringing out a wine’s intended flavor profile and characteristics.

Determining a wine’s ideal temperature is not an exact science and varies depending on the type of wine. That said, it’s standard to serve white wines at cooler temperatures than red wines. For all wines, it’s key to maintain a proper temperature for as long as possible. In many cases—unless you’re in a cold region and your wine is literally surrounded by frigid air—that means keeping your hands off the glass as much as possible.

2. It Keeps Things Clean

Your hands naturally carry oils. If you’re eating with your fingers, they can also carry grease and other food remains.

“You don’t want those same oils or foods to end up on the bowl of your glass,” Cabrales advises. “It will alter your perception of the wine because you will pick up those aromas as well.”

In addition to interfering with the wine’s flavor profile, smudges on the glass can also get in the way of sensing the wine’s true color, which—you guessed it—is another metric of enjoying wine.

Plus, who likes smudges on their pretty crystal drinkware? Be kind to your host, who’s likely responsible for cleaning up post-cocktail hour.

3. It Can Enhance Flavor

Holding a glass properly can make all the difference between a graceful, controlled swirl and staining your favorite pants. And a good swirl is crucial.

Swirling is a key component of the Five S’s of wine tasting that encourages the aeration of wine, which activates its aromatic compounds. That’s super important, since our sense of smell is more responsible than taste in the perception of flavor. When a glass of wine is swirled, the resulting aroma amplifies the drinker’s perception of a wine’s flavor profile.

How to Hold a Traditional Wine Glass

A traditional stemmed wine glass is composed of a bowl (where the wine is poured), a stem (the long, slender bit beneath the bowl) and a base (the flat bit at the bottom).

Of course, there are several different types of wine glasses that are constructed to maximize the enjoyment of specific varietals. Case in point, a wide-bowled glass for Pinot Noir, or a (controversial!) narrow flute for Champagne. But for the sake of this conversation, we’ll refer to traditional wine glasses as any glass with a stem.

Related: Different Types of Wine Glasses, and Why They Matter

Infographic of Wine Glass Parts

A rule of thumb when it comes to properly holding a traditional wine glass: the less contact with your glass, the better.

“Always by the stem—don’t grab it like you’re grabbing a doorknob,” says Cabrales. Instead, she recommends lifting it gently with your fingers. This helps avoid changes in the wine’s temperature through contact with the bowl and smudgy fingerprints. It also allows for more control when swirling the wine to release its aromas.

Any of the following holds are peachy keen in Cabrales’s book:

1. Thumb and Forefinger

Hold the glass towards the base of the stem, gripping between your thumb and your index finger. The rest of your fingers rest at the base.

Thumb and Forefinger Hold

2. Pinch at Stem

Clutch the glass towards the bottom of the stem, almost as if you were gripping a mug by its handle.

Pinch at Stem

3. Pinch at Base

Use your thumb and forefinger to grip the glass around where the stem and base meet.

Pinch at Base

4. Lever at Thumb

A more challenging configuration, hold the glass at its base with your thumb on top and the side of your index finger on the bottom.

Lever at Thumb

How to Hold a Stemless Wine Glass

Stemless wine glasses have all the components of a traditional wine glass, minus the stem.

Infographic of Stemless Wine Glass Parts

The structure presents a problem: it’s impossible to avoid touching the bowl. Therefore, these stemless wine glasses are not ideal for tasting. That said, even the pros recognize that sometimes it’s more a matter of getting the job done.

“I try to avoid it as much as possible,” says Cabrales. “But when I’m in the park, I’m for it, you know?”

But don’t clutch it like a baseball. To hold, grasp with your thumb, index finger and middle finger and let your other fingers rest on the base.

Stemless Glass Hold


Holding the glass closer to the bottom of its base helps minimize any temperature changes to the wine. How? A lower surface area of contact reduces the rate of heat transfer from wine to hand. It also concentrates any smudging on the glass to the bottom, rather than leaving fingerprints around the rim.

Another useful tip is to keep your glass on another surface as much as possible. Remember: The less contact, the better.

Is There a “Best” Way to Hold a Wine Glass?

“I prefer the feel and the weight and the dynamic that I have with a traditional wine glass with a stem,” says Cabrales. “The feel of it is elegant to me. But it’s not to say that it’s the official way to drink wine.”

The “best” approach is to choose what feels most comfortable for you—even if that means taking a note from Scandal’s finest.