We all know that the temperature a wine is served at can have a huge impact on how it tastes, and also that some wines need longer time to ‘breathe’ than others, but I guess I have never really thought too much about the glass I drink it through.
I prefer a big glass but I’ve always thought that was more to do with wanting a bit more quantity rather than improving the quality of a wine, and I don’t smirk too much drinking from plastic cups. But that has all changed after a Masterclass with Maximilian Riedel, eleventh generation glass maker and President of Riedel (aka ‘The Wine Glass Company’).
I was deeply intrigued and perhaps a little bit skeptical going into a tasting with three wines and six different wine glasses last week at the London Wine Fair.
Maximilian had selected three wines: an oaked Chardonnay (2004) from New Zealand, a Pinot Noir from Oregon (2009) and a Syrah from Hawkes Bay (2007). He’d also selected six glasses: a typical small tasting glass, a typical style white wine glass, a large bulbous round glass for oaked Chardonnay (it looked more like what you’d expect as a typical red glass), a round bottomed glass with a narrow lipped top (for new world Pinot Noir), a large egg-shaped new world Hermitage glass and an enormous rounded bottom straight topped Cabernet Sauvignon glass. The last three are so big you can fit an entire bottle in one glass! Although the intention of it sadly isn’t just to give you a good trick for your ‘one glass on a week night’ rule.
“I always suggest you smell the glasses first” was our first instruction from Maximilian. All awkwardly smelling the empty glasses, we then moved onto trying the different wines in each glass. What was amazing was not just how the different shapes of the glasses captured and elevated different aroma profiles, but more interestingly was the different ways the wine entered into your mouth – hitting a different bit of your palate first.
For example the oaked Chardonnay showed a lot more alcohol in the nose with the standard white wine tasting glasses but as soon as you put it in the Chardonnay glass with a round bottom but narrower rim, the alcohol wasn’t as evident and you could notice more subtle buttery notes.
With the Pinot Noir, which is often known for unbalanced acid levels, the lip of the glass acts as what Maximilian calls an ‘acidity bumper’ and as you basically French kiss the glass, the wine hits the front of your mouth presenting the fruity flavors first.
Riedel experts work individually studying the DNA of each varietal to work out the optimum shape to improve the drinking experience and highlight the virtues of each wine. “We are always seeking for the ‘holy grail’ for each wine variety,” he told us.
This glasses look great, but after an interesting tasting I too am a convert that they actually improve the experience of a wine. As Maximilian pointed out, “Why is the last sip of a bottle always the best? Maybe because it is ‘mission accomplished’. But maybe it is because it has had the most oxygen. We can decant a wine, or we can use the right glass.”
Although the glass company has developed a glass for each varietal, apparently there is no hard and fast rule about varietals – it is also down to the individual style of the wine and where it comes from (New World Pinot Noirs have a very differently shaped glass to Burgundy wine).
Maximilian had been working with a well-known French champagne house a fortnight before to make a bespoke glass for one of their considerably aged champagnes. After a couple days of tasting and testing, they decided a round glass was actually better for it than the traditional flute. That’s not all, they also discovered that this austere champagne actually was more expressive after being decanted too! It kind of makes you rethink how you normally drink…
And the ideal glass for Malbec? Maximilian says that at the moment it is the egg shaped Hermitage glass. Although no doubt with a bit of experimenting and tasting we’ll have a different shaped glass for Uco Malbecs to Lujan Malbecs, and who can imagine the shape they will take?
When it comes to changing your perception on serving and drinking wines, Riedel really does take you through the looking glass.