I’m not sure why I actually went along at last week’s Riedel glass seminar with the speaker’s suggestion to taste Coca-Cola out of the manufacturer’s new designer glass. Isn’t coke a democratic drink you enjoy most drinking directly with your lips pursed around that iconic bottle after you lift that crown – just as the soft drink company used to make people believe in the good ol’ days?
Perhaps the Austrian glassmaking family has become guilty of diversifying just a little too much since I first attended a Riedel wine glass seminar twelve years ago.
Back then Riedel made itself and their beautifully crafted crystal wine glasses famous to all through the philosophy that each grape varietal requires a specific and purposely designed glass to offer the full expression of a wine.
It was a time when most catering establishments in Malta were still doing a disservice to wine by serving it in anything but a decent wine glass. The many local Riedel product demonstrations that have followed since have had a practical impact on restaurant tables in a similar fashion to what Tupperware parties do to empty kitchen cabinets. At least now that they’re readily available, we can all dine out in style and drink wine from ample-sized glasses (although they might not all be Riedel).
For my professional use, I’ve kept on relying as much as possible on one and the same glass, which is machine-made similar in shape but larger than the ISO glass simply because it allows me to benchmark. For me the key has always been consistency in the type of glass I’m using when assessing wine methodically.
This implies of course that I agree that, at least to a certain extent, the taste of a single wine can vary according to the glass it’s poured in. However, as I realised at last week’s Riedel presentation, the wine glass you think that shows off the wine at its best, isn’t necessarily the glass Riedel wants you to think it is. As I ignored the sequence of glasses in which I was told to pour the wine and instead evaluated it from any glass at random I became aware of the influence of suggestion, the placebo effect. Riedel and other high-end glasses can make wine taste better. Because they’re pretty. Because they’re delicate. Because they’re expensive. And, because you’re told that they make the wine taste better.
I’m of course not the first person to be sceptical. Riedel has had its share of criticism, especially since 2004 when Daniel Zwerdling wrote his blistering article called “Shattered Myths” published in Gourmet magazine. In the absence of scientific evidence to support the glass manufacturer’s claims, I believe that the answer to the riddle why the glass is so important to the enjoyment of wine is likely to lie within the art of persuasion.
Riedel has diversified the ranges of glasses further since my introduction to the brand twelve years ago. There are now also regional glass lines on sale such as the Oregon Pinot Noir glass, created in 2006 at the request of some of the state’s vintners. Which begs the question: “Where does the proliferation of glassware end?”
What if an upcoming, young winegrowing area – like, say, Malta – approached George Riedel about making a few new glasses? Glasses for Girgentina and Gellewza, not one but a pair for each variety relative to whether the grapes come from the main Island Malta or Gozo instead. Would he accept the challenge or gracefully decline? Maltese wines aren’t as abundantly available as Coca-Cola; the answer is in the numbers, I guess.
I cannot not agree with most of the things you’ve said.
Since a couple of years ago Malta’s glassware habits have changed for the better. You still find the odd place however where the Paris goblet is still the staple wine glass but we’ve improved.
Riedel is a fantastic glassware brand.
I’m sure a lot of research is involved to have different glasses for each varietal, but sometimes I also do ask myself whether it s gone slightly overboard.
On the other hand I still don’t know how a professional wine educating school like WSET is still using the ISO glass…
Thanks for your comment.
It seems we agree on a number of points.
It is indeed good to witness that restaurants in Malta have gradually upgraded their stemware. The efforts of glass manufacturers in this respect is laudable.
I do make the point that the diversification of the Riedel plethora of wine glasses – coke tumblers and soon coffee mugs! – has gone too far. Too far for Riedel’s sake, that is. The hunt for diversified revenue streams has made them lose the plot. The brand idea has been stretched so wide that the company has lost credibility in the minds of their customers.
I agree with you that, like other designer brands of glassware, Riedel glasses (except for the horrible stemless O-series) are extremely beautiful glasses which enhance the pure sensual pleasure of the drinking experience. I’m all for that!
But there is no scientific argument (yet) that supports the reasons which Riedel demonstrators give as to why Riedel glasses do what George Riedel claims they do. If you have any doubts, just dig a little deeper, especially in the results of the research project that the Riedel company commissioned itself. The links in my article set you on your way.
Whilst Riedel glasses have their purpose, I disagree with the idea that there is such a thing as the ultimate glass design for one specific grape variety. In fact, it is easy to see why it doesn’t make sense:
a) The Riedel idea of having varietal specific glasses stems from a bygone era. It cashed in on the supply of many easy-to-understand mono-varietal wines made from a handful of popular grape varieties that started to dominate the international market some 20 years ago.
b) The wine world has changed. Many fighting and native grape varieties have since become popular also. To claim that drinkers need a specific glass for each one of these hundreds of varietals to be able to enjoy each wine wouldn’t only be impractical, it just doesn’t make any sense. How many consumers can distinguish a run of the mill Pinot Grigio from a Pinot Blanc, their common Trebbiano from Garganega, or Gamay from Valdiguie or Pelaverga which can all three be mistaken for Pinot Noir? If drinkers can’t tell one varietal from another, why bother?
c) More importantly, wines made from the same single grape variety can vary a lot in style, too. A tart, lean and unoaked Chardonnay from England (take Sky’s Chardonnay, 2013) will taste totally different to a fat and powerful Chassagne-Montrachet (Jean-Yves Devevey, 1998, thank you very much). Surely the same Riedel Chardonnay glass won’t do for both!
d) But the argument in favour of varietal specific glasses is best dispelled by asking the question: “Then what type of glass are we left with for blends?” What glass would one possibly use for Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Chianti? Tuscany’s popular red comes in a dozen of different styles: eight sub-regions, Riservas, some are 100% Sangiovese, made with or without modern winemaking equipment, others are blends with a serious dose of tannic Cabernet in the mix, a good number of Chiantis are still made using floral white varieties too, the bulk of Chianti is to be consumed young, others best when poured with bottle age, and so on.
Not the variety it is made from or its provenance, but the style of the wine is the key to choosing the proper glass for one’s enjoyment. That is why it makes sense to have at least one style of glass for white, another for red wine, a different shaped one for sparkling wine, a Sherry and a Port glass.
Actually, Riedel is aware of this. The description for their Zinfandel / Chianti Sommelier glass says the glass design suits a number of wine styles. It can be used for Alsace Grand Cru, Bardolino, Beaujolais Nouveau, Blauer Portugieser, Côtes de Provence, Côtes du Rhône rosé, Dolcetto, Jurançon Sec, Lagrein, Marsannay rosé, Montepulciano, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Orvieto Classico, Primitivo, Riesling, Riesling (Spätlese/late harvest dry), Riesling Smaragd, Sangiovese, Scheurebe, Schilcher, Smaragd, Teroldego, Vernaccia, Welschriesling, Zinfandel. I agree with the multiple use of this glass. However, this summation of styles and varieties presents a serious loop in the varietal specific theory.
As I said, for professional wine tasting purposes I use a glass similar to an ISO one for all wines because it allows me to benchmark. I can’t speak for WSET, but I’m assuming the reasoning is the same here.
With glass (Riedel or not) in hand, I bid you happy drinking!