What’s In A Glass?

Decanted's Riedel Wine Presentation, Compliments of Ivan Seligman

Last night we held one of our personal favorite tasting events, a Riedel Stemware Tasting & Presentation (compliments of Lisa & AJ from Riedel Crystal for conducting the presentation).  We’ve been longtime advocates of proper stemware, and in particular varietal specific stemware.  We had the opportunity to participate in one of these seminars a few years ago and then again this year at a trade show hosted by Southern Wine & Spirits.

The presentation includes five different stems and four different wines.  Participants are asked to taste the wines in the appropriate stem and then move them around into the others.  For example, Chardonnay goes in the Cabernet glass…Sauvignon Blanc into the Pinot glass, etc.  There is a Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling glass, Chardonnay glass, Pinot Noir glass, Cabernet glass, and a ‘joker’ glass.  The joker glass is a standard all-purpose glass used to represent a typical glass used at restaurants or households (we used a libby wine glass for ours).  The four different wines served are wines that are typical of the varietals that should be served in the above glasses.  Our chosen wines were:

1.  Grgich Hills Fume Blanc, 2008 (Sauvignon Blanc), $30
2.  Forman Chardonnay, 2008, $50
3.  Merry Edwards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, 2008, $60
4.  Whitehall Lane Reserve Cabernet, 2007, $75

The best part of this presentation is watching the reaction of the crowd when the workshop finally gets going.  As participants poured their Grgich into the ‘joker’ glass for the first time they were stunned.  The brilliant color of the wine disappeared, the aromas disappeared and it tasted surprisingly watery.  Even worse was pouring it into the (Riedel) Chardonnay glass, the wine became overly acidic.  As the tasting went on, less and less participants were willing to dump their beloved wine into the wrong glass.  One of our customers commented, “I’m not wasting this wine it’s too good!”

But why the difference?  What makes Riedel so special?  It boils down to two things – crystal and shape.

The Vinum, Vinum Extreme, Sommeliers, Grape, Vitis and Tyrol series and most decanters are made of leaded crystal. (Ouverture, Wine, Vivant and O series are not)  The leaded crystal produces clearer colors and enhanced aromas which typical glassware actually inhibits.  A good example Lisa (Riedel) used last night was a typical glass shelf in your house or retail store…if you look at the side of it, it produces a greenish hue.  That is the true color of the glass, and the true color of most typical restaurant wine glasses – and why the color of a wine can be distorted.

The Riedel family has spent years with the world’s best wine experts to develop the perfect shaped glass for each varietal.  The shape for a specific varietal depends on many different things, but results in the shape that best enhances the aromas and flavors of the wine.  For example, the large open bulb on the Montrachet (Chardonnay) glass enables you to take in the complex and large varieties of aromas in a Chardonnay; while the thin bulb of the Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling glass makes sure that the wine hits you tongue at exactly the center (and the right taste buds) for the wine.  The Pinot Noir and Cabernet glasses may have a larger bulb, but are not as open as the Montrachet (playfully known as the ‘red wine killer’) making sure that the red wine gets enough oxygen to open up the wine but not an over abundance that would kill the aroma.

The comment that summed up the night for me came from Ivan Seligman of aninsatiableappetite.blogspot.com (who also reports for Gulfshore Life), “If you want to make a $90 bottle of wine taste like a $9 bottle, just serve it in those regular $3-5 non-crystal glasses you have at home. Conversely, a fine crystal glass of say a Cabernet design, paired with a so-so Cabernet, will make it taste better, though not like a $90 bottle.”

So to all those non-believers in premium (or expensive) wine, I beg the question…The last time you had that $50 of Cabernet that didn’t taste any better than your $2 buck chuck – what kind of glass was it served in?  Was it an old thick, open bulb found at the bottom of your mother’s china cabinet or whatever the server brought to the table?  We’re not advocating stocking every home you drink wine in with a pricey set of every varietal specific Riedel stem, and certainly not traveling with them.  But if you are one that enjoys good wine, isn’t it worth the investment for just a set or two for your favorite type of wine?  An investment that will enhance your favorites and bring out the best in the wine, what the winemaker intended you to experience.

We’ve been in the non-believer place and have met many a customers (and family and friends) that have been or are still there.  But believe us on this, a stemware experiment such as the Riedel presentation is powerful and turns believers out of us all.

Posted on February 5, 2011, in Wine and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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