Tiny Wine Glasses Have Won Us Over. Here’s Why

INAO glasses may have been developed for professional wine tasting, but they’re also perfect for casual drinking

The INAO with a more conventional glass
The small but mighty INAO, with a more conventional glass for scaleThomas Payne

I recently spent a couple of days in Paris, where I got to have a stupefyingly-good daily pastry from Du Pain et des Ideés every morning and practically put my nose on a Vermeer at the Louvre. The thing that has really stuck with me, though, is how small the wine glasses were. I'm exaggerating, but only a little. At one point, after I ordered a 15-year-old red, a rustic Loire cabernet franc still kicking with chewy tannin, there was a big showy display of bringing out appropriate glasses—which were barely bigger than the minuscule ones they were replacing.

It seemed like the majority of caves and restaurants I went to used a tasting glass called the INAO. It was created by (and named for) the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine, the body that regulates French agricultural products—what makes a Bordeaux a Bordeaux, that sort of thing. They created a standard for a tasting glass in the ‘70s in order to have an objective baseline when evaluating wines. And so it was never really meant to be used with dinner, but it seems to have become a totem of unpretentiousness at a certain kind of wine bar or restaurant—natural wine on the menu, T-shirts on the staff.

The exact specs of the INAO glass
The exact specs of the INAO glassCourtesy of INAO

Big glasses have plenty of real advantages: they allow you to swirl wine around and kick up extra aromas, to have your nose in the glass while you sip, and they actually hold an entire 5-ounce pour (the INAO is best used to sip 2 or 3 ounces at a time). I have a pair of big Zalto Universal glasses that I love. They're $60 each, incredibly fragile, and, I'm sorry to say, wine actually tastes better out of them, at least to me. But after getting back from France, I picked up a case of relatively inexpensive INAO glasses, and I am also loving them.

The ideal use case is slightly different than the Zaltos or other big glasses, which are great for splitting a special bottle with one other person or other focused sipping. The INAOs, on the other hand, really shine when you’re not having more than three or four ounces of any one thing. A lightly-drunken dinner party with lots of friends and even more bottles, the kind of night when you end up saying “I’d like just a splash more of that one” more times than may be wise. My favorite kind of drinking, in other words.