Flavour through a wine glass

Sunday, 5 April 2009 | Tags: , , , ,

I've never given much weight to the assertion that the shape of a wine glass affects the flavour of the wine. It sounds like a whole lot of hooey. For me, the best tasting wines are associated with a time and place, not to mention the people. (And sometimes that means on my sofa in front of the TV with no one other than my cat.)

That is until I met Georg Riedel. If you drink wine or read magazines or walk past a wine or home wares shop you know his product: Decidedly simple, yet highly sophisticated wine glasses. Over the last couple of years Riedel wine glasses have become ubiquitous. They are the gold standard. Elaborate, detailed, cut crystal designs are out and the clean, simple, flawless design of Riedel crystal is in. Riedel is so in, it’s out.

Last week I was invited to attend a wine tasting workshop with Mr. Riedel at the Vancouver Playhouse Wine Festival. It was free and they were pouring wine, so that counts me in. I don’t know much about wine, aside from the fact that I like it very much and I tend to prefer the stuff that comes from the old world (France, Italy but not Australia), so I was also interested to learn a thing or two.

By a Nose

Mr. Riedel said that 80% of our enjoyment of food and wine is olefactory. It’s almost all about smell. The other 20% is equally divided between texture and taste. To make his point, he had arranged that we each had four different wines, a sauvignon blanc, a chardonnay, a pinot noir and a cabernet sauvignon poured into four different shaped glasses. He also had an empty plastic  cup on the side.

Starting with the sauvignon blanc, he had us smell the wine and then pour it into the plastic cup and smell again. The difference in aroma was astounding. Remember, I know next to nothing about wine. In the sauvignon blanc glass the wine smelled fresh, with hints of tropical fruit, grass, bell peppers and citrus. Seriously, I could smell all that. Pour it into the plastic cup and the aroma is suddenly changed. It’s still aromatic, but you can’t distinguish between the layers of individual scents. Same goes for the taste. In the plastic cup it tastes like citrus, which is nice, but one-dimensional.

Too much wine speak? I would have thought so too, until I took part in this workshop. Mr. Riedel went down the line with each grape varietal, pouring not only into the plastic cup but then into different shaped glasses and the aroma and flavours always changed.

By the Glass

Now, I am by no means suggesting a different glass for every variety of grape. But in going through this workshop I picked up a few important tricks:

  • If you’re going to buck up and buy a nice wine in a restaurant, also ask for the right shaped glass. If they don’t have it, ask for a brandy snifter. It’s a great wine glass because it’s tapered. According to Georg Riedel, “all quality vessels are tapered.”

  • The chardonnay glass is the “enemy” of red wine, even though it make look similar. The bowl of the chardonnay glass is too shallow.

  • Red wines are more complex than white, because of the skins.

  • Georg Riedel talked for over an hour about the shape of glasses, but he never once mentioned materials. Riedel sells a high end line (over $75 for a single glass) and a much more affordable series of glasses. Both lines come in a variety of shapes, but I am told the higher priced glasses are of better quality crystal. But if the crystal doesn’t affect aroma or taste the way shape does, I say go with the lower priced line.

  • The most important part of wine service is temperature. For storage, remember that constant temperature matters more than a cool temperature.

Buy the Glasses?

Now, I realize that Mr. Riedel is in the business of selling wine glasses. And I’d like the name and phone number of whomever is in charge of his marketing department. But if you have a few different shaped glasses at home – and a plastic cup – grab a couple of whites (the sauvignon blanc is where I saw the biggest difference) and a couple of reds, invite the gang over and have your own aroma and taste test party. If you’re interested in wine, you may be surprised and it’ll give you something new to talk about.

And while this knowledge may impress a few people, I still say that at the end of the day it’s the best friends and lovers who will make plonk in a plastic cup taste like nectar of the gods.


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