It’s the glass!


Recently I enjoyed a bottle of wine with my friend and wine mentor, Mario…for educational purposes only of course.  We talked about our grandchildren and the zip-line he built for them, about his most recent trip to Italy, and then his next trip to Italy.  Somehow the subject turned to wine glasses.  Whimsically I asked why wine always tastes better here.  “It’s the glass,” Mario responded without missing a beat.
Now, I had read at one point that the glass used to drink your wine can affect the way it tastes.  I didn’t know how at the time, but I now know for certain it does.  Mario agrees; “Quality and shape really do make a difference to the tasting experience.”
So I asked, how do you know which glasses are best for taste and which are just for show?
Mario said to get the most bang for the buck it’s Riedel brand.  When the Riedel range is compared to any other glass, they stand head and shoulders above them, for a number of reasons. The most obvious one – especially when you have seen them – is their look and feel.  Obvious care and expertise has gone into the way they’ve been made.
Claus Riedel was the person responsible for the finer design and development of today’s modern wine glass styles.  He made Riedel into the finest producer of wine glassware in the world.  With his son Maximillian, they recognized the importance of the design of the wine glass and its relation to the style and type of wine being tasted.
Wine can be consumed from any sort of vessel, but Mario challenged me to drink from my wide, thick-rimmed average-style glass, and compare it with a Riedel glass–the Riedel Nebbiolo to be precise–to see if I noticed a difference in the whole wine tasting experience.
I did.  For the test I compared two wines, the Monna Nerra 2007 and the Ghost Pines Zinfandel.  First was the Monna Nerra, and let me tell you this was just an awesome wine: 50 percent Sangiovese, 20 percent Merlot, 10 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Canaiolo.  A great tasting wine no matter what glass I used, but to be honest the Riedel did make the wine taste better.  The Ghost Pines Zinfandel by Louis M. Martini was a beautiful Zin, and I’m a man who drinks a lot of Zinfandel, but once again the Riedel glass made it taste even better.
When it comes to actually tasting a wine, the shape of the glass is important.  Professional tasters have to be able to assess the wine accurately in order to portray their findings to us via tasting notes.  It’s the same from an amateur’s point of view.  Before we sip the wine, we want to find out a bit more about it via its smell, or nose, as it’s called when tasting.
To be able to extract so much information from a sniff when the wine is swirled in the glass, the design of the bowl helps a lot. The ideal design in a Riedel wine glass allows the aromas to be neatly collected at the rim, ready for the taster to inhale and assess the wines’ quality prior to drinking it.  However, the design of conventional wine glasses are unable to concentrate the nuances in the same way.
Max Riedel – 11th Riedel generation – has developed bespoke wine glasses for different varieties of wine.  For example, if you are partial to a delicate wine like a Pinot Noir, then the ideal glass for this is one with a wide-rimmed bowl.  Conversely, with a Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc the glass shape is taller and thinner, enabling the capture of the youthful freshness and acidity which would be lost in the Pinot Noir glass.
Some may say, why be so persnickety over the shape of a glass?  The answer is that wine has often been connected to pretentiousness and even snobbery.  So drinking out of “the right” glass to many does make a difference – you don’t have to be pretentious or a snob to want to appreciate wine.
There is no need to be overwhelmed if you are concerned at the cost of replacing an entire set of glassware, just go for the ones you use regularly.  Here are some simple guidelines when selecting glasses:
White wines:
  • Use a wine glass with a narrow bowl to retain subtle flavors and nuances. This ensures that the surface area of exposed wine to oxygen is reduced.
  • The wine will remain cooler for longer, therefore retaining its bouquet.
  • A younger, fresher wine is best in a slightly taller, thinner glass.  This is why champagne is always served in a tall, fluted glass: it contains the bubbles and slowly directs them gently upwards towards your nose.
  • A fuller, fatter wine like a mature Chardonnay is best out of a slightly shorter, wider rimmed glass.  As there is an abundance of flavor already in the wine, it is beneficial to have a wider surface area in your glass. A Chardonnay does not require so much chilling, unless of course it is very young and high in acidity.
Red wines:
  • Use a glass with a wider bowl, increasing the surface area, enabling the wine to breathe.
  • Exposure to oxygen will soften the tannins and allow the stronger flavors in the wine to show through.
  • The wine will be served at room temperature, therefore it is easier to warm a wider glass than a tall, narrow one as you hold it in your hand, which in turn releases more aromas.
I’ll leave you today with a few quick tips.  First, when pouring your wine only fill glasses one-third full.  This helps to leave room in the glass to swirl the wine around, so you are able to enjoy the aromas as they are released.  Next, when washing good quality wine glasses use very hot water only, without detergent.  The buildup of soap in your glasses may interfere with the taste of wine.  Mario will also tell you to keep an inexpensive white wine to “rinse” you glass with, as the white wine will eliminate unwanted flavors.  I keep an inexpensive white for Josephine to cook with, so I rinse with it too.  Don’t worry, I do drink it.  Wastes not, want not!  Finally, invest in the best wine glass collection you can.  It can be a big decision, but I promise you when it comes to tasting wine, size and shape do matter.

One thought on “It’s the glass!”

  1. Great post John. So many people think that having different glasses for different types of wine is “elitism and just plain snobbery” but there is a very good reason to have the right glass and it has nothing to do with having ones nose in the air but it does make having ones nose in the glass a much better experience. 😉

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