Got Riedel? Wine Glasses Matter Hot

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Cabernet in a Glass

Cabernet in a Glass
Photo © feverblue

One of the most interesting topics of disagreement among wine drinkers is the question of whether wine glasses really, truly make a difference when it comes to how a wine smells, how a wine tastes, and the overall wine experience. On the face of things, it hardly seems possible — perhaps a half-way decent wine glass is better than a plastic cup, but how can an expensive glass made by a company like Riedel (supposedly for a particular variety of wine) be better than good, all-purpose red or white wine glass?

In every place where I've read someone describing their experiences comparing wine in the appropriate Riedel glasses with other glasses and even other Riedel glasses, they've reported that it does make a difference — sometimes a dramatic difference. It's little wonder that Riedel hosts tasting events all over the country to demonstrate that, yes, their glasses make a difference. That sounds very compelling, doesn't it?

Others continue to doubt, though, and point out that the only true comparison would be a completely blind comparison where the wine taster is influenced as little as possible by the sight and feel of the "appropriate," high-quality glass. That's a more than reasonable demand because our experience of wine is influenced by a lot more than just a wine's aromas and taste. I haven't seen any reports of such a strict comparison, have you?

Robert Kasper talked to Georg J. Riedel about his company's glasses at a recent tasting in Baltimore:

Yet his wineglasses, with their thin, curved rims, handblown bowls and long stems, can, he contends, make wines blossom. "A right glass for the wine puts the wine in a good mood and starts the conversation with the senses," he said.

When asked why in tight economic times people would pay a lot of money for a wineglass, Riedel replied that the glasses can make even inexpensive boxed wines come to full flower. He said that in a blind tasting last February in Helsinki, Finland, boxed wines served in Riedel glasses got better marks from tasters than expensive bottled wines served in mass-produced glassware.

He dismissed the complaint that fragile, large wineglasses are difficult to store.

"You have three cars in your garage and you can't find a place in a cupboard for wineglasses?" he asked, tongue in cheek.

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Well, if I had a three-car garage then I'd probably have relatively large house and, therefore, a relatively large kitchen — one large enough to make storage of a collection of nice wine glasses a reasonable expectation. That's a nice dream, but my reality is that I don't have any sort of garage and while I do have a house, it's a house with a small kitchen — a kitchen too small for most of the usual requirements I have for it, never mind storage of nice wine glasses.

So, no, I can't find a place in any of my cupboards for your nice wine glasses, Mr. Riedel, nor have I yet found a place in my budget for them. I've managed to purchase some nice wine glasses from Spiegelau, which your Riedel company now owns, and I've been very happy with them so far. I don't have a cupboard for storing them, either — right now I wash them immediately, dry them, and keep them stored in their original boxes in the back room. That's far from my ideal, but it's the best I've been able to develop so far.

Perhaps some day I'll get some Riedel glasses as well, though I doubt I'll have a cupboard for them yet.

Murray Almond performed some interesting tests a few years ago:

Trial One: the Wine Geek

When the Riedel Shiraz Glass (416/30) was released I bought a couple and did a trial with my regular tasting buddy; The Good Doctor. My method was to assemble a range of wine glasses and put the same wine into each glass and ask TGD to tell me "Which glass presented the wine best?".

So I assembled the following glasses:

  • Riedel Vinum Bordeaux Glass (416/0)

  • Riedel Vinum Shiraz Glass (416/30)

  • Riedel Vinum Pinot Glass (416/7)

  • Riedel Vinum Chardonnay Glass (416/7)

  • ISO Tasting Glass

  • Kosta Boda Red Wine Glass

  • Orrefors Red Wine Glass

  • Vegemite Glass

I poured the same wine, masked, from a decanter into each glass. TGD then tasted the wine from all glasses and gave his pronouncement as to which glass presented the wine best, and then the exercise was repeated with a different wine. The two wines presented were a Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz, and then a Stoniers Reserve Pinot Noir, from Victoria's Mornington Peninsula.

In both cases the appropriate Riedel glass presented the respective wine. The Pinot showed most character from the Vinum Pinot glass and likewise for the Shiraz in the Vinum shiraz glass.

Well, maybe this test was affected by the fact that it was done with a "wine geek" whose taste experience could be heavily influenced by expectations created by glass shapes. So Murray Almond repeated the test with someone who liked wine but didn't really know anything about it:

This was more of a test in the subject knew nothing about the various wine shapes, let alone being able to identify the specific wine styles associated with the varieties. Again the wine was served blind from a decanter.

He studiously went down the range of glasses and identified the correct Riedel Glassware match to the Grape Variety from those presented. In this case it was a Cabernet and a Chardonnay, so it was not a case of 'biggest glass best".

Results, and a Surprise

These two tests showed it for me, in all cases the subject identified the grape variety that was matched to the appropriate Riedel glass shape, in preference to a wide range of glass shapes presented. As such, for the main glasses in the Vinum range of Riedel glassware, I endorse the selection of the appropriate Riedel glass for the wine. The surprising result of the trial was when I asked my subjects to rank the glasses in how well they presented the wine. In all cases the ISO Tasting Glass came out second or third in ranking. This ranking was even preferred over other Riedels, which have 'the look' over the range.

These results surprised me and provide further endorsement for my recommendation for the ISO Tasting Glass as the best everyday glass.

These results are very interesting. Not only do they reinforce my desire to eventually get Riedel wine glasses — at least for whichever wines I drink the most — but they suggest that in the short term a set of ISO tasting glasses might be a good idea as well. I'm not sure I'd want to stop using my Spiegelau wine glasses, but for wine tastings I think I'd use ISO wine tasting glasses — or at the very least I'd use them side-by-side with my Spiegelau glasses.

It would be interesting to see how (if?) wines tasted in both glasses tasted differently and if one or the other makes a noticeable improvement in a wine's aromas or flavors. Of course, it could get a little crazy having all sorts of glasses sitting around with the same wine, with me trying one after another in an attempt to compare them all. I'm not sure I'd have enough wine left to test pairings with various foods!

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