Why are you supposed to hold a wine glass by the stem? It’s not what you think.
Have you ever heard that you shouldn’t hold a wine glass by the bulb? This is true, but why? First, let’s go through some of the misinformation you have probably heard.
Myth 1: You should hold a glass by the stem because your hand transfers heat to the wine. FALSE. Glass is actually an insulator, and a very low conductor of heat, Your hand on the glass is, at best, marginally contributing to the wine warming up. Glass doesn’t allow the flow of electrons easily from atom to atom, like metal substances do. If the wine is chilled, it is warming up to a higher temperature simply because the air temperature is warmer, not because your hand is on the glass.
Myth 2: You should hold a wine glass by the stem because you don’t want to get fingerprints on the glass. WHAT?!
Is your glass of wine moonlighting as a Polaroid photograph? Better not smudge the picture! If you are eating something greasy with your fingers, and then grab the bulb of your wine glass, I can see why that would be less than ideal, as no one wants to look at a greasy mess, but still, this is not the reason why it’s best to hold a wine glass by the stem. You will hear that if you get fingerprints on the wine glass, you cannot see the wine as clearly to determine things like opacity, legs, and rim variation, but this doesn’t make much sense either. I recommend experimenting and challenging the theory — get your fingerprints all over a wine glass and tell me that it obstructed your view of the wine. Again, marginally, perhaps, but it’s not likely.
Myth 3: It’s classier. This is sort of true. It is more socially acceptable to hold a wine glass by the base or the stem, but why? This still doesn’t answer our question.
The real reason: You “should” hold a wine glass by the stem in order to avoid smelling your hand while you sip your wine. 90% of taste comes from our sense of smell. If you have ever had a cold and tried to eat something delicious but couldn’t get the full enjoyment, you would know this to be true. Our hands are the greatest transmitters of bacteria, oils, and scent. Most hand soaps and sanitizers have a strong scent that is left behind. If you are blind tasting a wine, then it is important that your hand is holding the glass as far away from your nose as possible in order to have the purest tasting experience. It is perhaps less important if you are in your own home.
In summary, don’t let anyone tell you what the “proper” way is to hold your wine glass if they don’t know why it’s deemed proper in first place. As long as you are enjoying and tasting your wine, you should be able to hold the glass the way that feels comfortable to YOU. Once wine is in your hand, it’s your business how you hold the glass; just don’t waste the wine!