The right glass can make all the difference

Does that special glass make a difference in enjoying wine?

Maximilian Riedel assures anyone within earshot it does, and he certainly convinced a lot of listeners earlier this month during the Colorado Mountain Winefest.

Riedel (rhymes with needle) is the 11th generation of the renowned Austrian glass-making family, and he’s as polished as the shining lead-crystal glassware he spent the weekend promoting.

“Drinking wine is one of the most-sensuous things you can do,” said Riedel. “A good wine is best appreciated in a good glass.”

Riedel should know. His family makes glassware for 300 styles of wine, all of the glasses designed to make wine more enjoyable.

More than 30 years ago, Maximilian’s grandfather, Claus Riedel, revolutionized how the world holds its wine when he changed stemware from the traditional colored and cut glass to unadorned, thin-blown, long-stemmed wine glasses.

That original glass design remains on display in the Museum of Modern Art.

Generally, a good wine glass (or stemware, as it’s known in the business) is thin and clear, with a bowl large enough to swirl and a stem long enough to hold the glass without leaving fingerprints on the bowl.

“Ladies, that is Mistake No. 1,” he said sharply, admonishing a trio of women sitting at a front table, holding their glasses like beer mugs. “Hold your glasses by the stem.”

This allows you to judge clarity and color and even get a glance at the wine’s “legs,” those trails of alcohol slipping down the glass after swirling the wine.

The longer its legs (or tears, as the French call them), Riedel said, the higher the alcohol content in the wine.

One theory says the more wine legs the better the wine. That’s not necessarily so. The only thing you can tell by looking at a wine’s legs is the wine likely has more that 12-percent alcohol.

Why swirl a wine before you smell it? Because the chemicals that carry the aromas and flavors settle at different levels and swirling the wine mixes oxygen into the wine, releasing the components that yield the bouquet of the wine.

Swirling is comparable to instant aging, softening a high tannin and high-alcohol wine.

Riedel told his audience that because your tongue has specialized taste areas, glasses are shaped to deliver different wines to the correct sense area.

The four glasses we tried were designed for specific grapes because the grape variety determines the relationship between fruit, acidity, tannin and alcohol in the finished wine.

“The right glass delivers the wine to our tongue and palate so we can savor the flavors,” Riedel said. “Glassware helps wine to talk to our senses.”

He urged his audience to taste the same wine in several different glasses, illustrating how the glass can change your perception of a wine simply because the glass fails to deliver the wine to the right spot on the tongue.

The sauvignon blanc/Riesling glass, for example, has a smaller bowl with a definite taper to the rim, which puts the wine on the tip of the tongue and adds “a three-dimensionality to the wine,” Riedel said.

The Bordeaux/cabernet sauvignon glass, in contrast, has a wider lip, spreading the wine to the sides of the tongue where the high alcohol won’t be as profound.

Sniffing the high-alcohol Spero 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon (listed on the label as 15.2 percent) in the narrow sauvignon blanc glass was an unpleasant experience. In the Bordeaux/cabernet sauvignon glass, the wine was fruity, the alcohol diminished.

The best glass for champagne and other sparkling wines? Riedel, evidently not afraid of being controversial, insisted it’s not the long-used flute.

“When you think of pinot noir, you also think of Champagne,” Riedel said. “Forget the flute; the best glass to use is the pinot noir glass.”

Riedel said glass designs have changed as wine-making has changed. Today’s wines are higher alcohol and need a glass with a wide bowl to allow some of that alcohol to disperse before we put our nose in it.

“Wine affects all of our senses,” said Riedel, and even the winemakers agreed.

“He picked up things I hadn’t noticed,” said Cory Norsworthy of Grande River Vineyards. “It’s true that the right glass can make a big difference.”


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