As part of the Melbourne Food and Wine festival 2017, Phil and I had the pleasure of attending a glass tasting hosted by Riedel. Amongst our dear friends, I have long been known for my plethora of assorted glassware at dinner parties. However, I must admit that this was more for aesthetics than enhancing the experience. Apart from believing that a flute could extend bubbling time in my champers and a goblet would give me more swirl to my Shiraz, I was clueless. The notion that the shape of the glass makes a real difference to the organoleptic experience seemed a little like hocus pocus.
Riedel – a family affair
Riedel has been in my consciousness as a market leader for a few years now. I was delighted to get my first set and know only too well the feeling of horror when they occasionally get broken. I didn’t realise that the cost of these beautiful glasses reflects a great deal of science and generations of family history.
Riedel has been a family business since 1756 in Romania. Now managed by Georg and Maximilian Riedel, the company focuses on producing perfectly shaped glasses to enhance the aromas and flavours or each varietal of wine.
The glass tasting
The glass tasting hosted by a rather charming young lady consisted of four varietals each in their recommended glass. The first, a Riesling, tasted quite delicious. Just as we began to revel in its citrus loveliness we were instructed to pour it, in its entirety, into a plastic cup. There was many a shocked gasp about the room. The effect was astonishing. The aromas of lemons and lifted florals were gone, the mouth-feel was harsh and acidic. For good measure, and much to our relief, the wine was returned to its rightful glass – harmony was restored to our palates.
Second came an oaked Chardonnay in a rather large bowl-shaped glass. Once again the flavours and aromas were delicious, but we knew what was coming next. The remainder of the Chardonnay was drained, this time into the Riesling glass. To our surprise the effects were similar to the that of the plastic glass – a marked reduction in quality. Apparently, had the Chardonnay not been unoaked, this would have been a most favourable transfer. My mind was boggled already.
Pinot Noir next up in an enormous bowl, not unlike that of the Chardonnay, just about 1.5cm taller with a slightly narrower neck. Surely just a few centimetres of glass would not make such a difference? Surely not? Wrong! As before, first the fruity deliciousness of the Pinot was sipped from its perfect glass. Then tentatively the wine was dispensed in turn into the other glasses. As it was passed from one to the other, the flavours got increasingly worse; the aromas fewer and fewer. That extra height made a great deal of difference!
Finally, and apparently the least forgiving glass of the lot; the Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich and delicious black fruit burst from the glass, which to the untrained eye looked like any other generic red wine glass. Surely this glass is good for anything – surely not. Apparently Shiraz would be better off in a plastic tumbler than this large goblet! Once again the results of passing this wine from one inappropriate glass to another were from the same story. Loss of aroma and gain of harsh acidity. I felt cold – how long have I been doing this wrong? How many wonderful wines have gone under appreciated by me by quaffing them from an inappropriate receptacle?
There will be no need for me to make the mistake again, at least if we are drinking one of the four varietals featured. That is because we got to keep those wonderful Riedel Veritas glasses. Along with them was a little booklet to help us determine which glass is the most appropriate for a range of other varietals too. Shame we only have a pair – though I suspect this will not be the case for long.
Some real magic!
The more beady-eyed of you may have noticed the two lovely squares of chocolate also featured on the tasting mat. Our lives were about to be changed forever. Which of the wines do you think they were to be paired with? Cutting to the chase, white chocolate and Pinot Noir! That’s right. White chocolate and Pinot Noir. Who knew? If you did, then why didn’t you tell me? The creaminess of the white chocolate combined incredibly well with the acid and fruit from the red wine, like fruit pie and cream. This is now my new favourite dessert.
The dark chocolate square was for the cab sav. I have long enjoyed a square of dark chocolate with a glass of red, but it can be a little touch and go sometimes. These two paired perfectly. The juicy fruit sweetness cut straight through the bitterness of the chocolate.
I am converted. Hocus pocus – there may indeed be a little magic in these glasses, but as a Scientist I am thoroughly impressed. What is the secret? Well in a nutshell, the bigger the bowl, the more contact the wine has with the air and the more ‘open’ it becomes. Whilst this is important for bold oaked Chardonnays and young Pinot Noirs, it is not so important for fresh whites like Riesling.
Those extra few centimetres and the width of the mouth of the glass effect the angle and speed of the flow into the mouth and onto the palate. Some wines like an oaked Chardonnay benefit from a gushing entry into the mouth, whilst others like Riesling and to some extent a Shiraz, benefit from a more directed flow onto the tongue.
There is far more to it for sure. Whilst my curiosity is peaked, for now I must admit my mind is a little blown. I challenge you dear reader to try it. You do not need to invest in a full set quite yet. Some wine bars have caught on to this and offer a range of glass wear for your taste. Try a couple of these wines in turn and practice changing the glass. Harry and Frankie in Port Melbourne is one such lovely place if you are in the neighbourhood.