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Using the right glass

The wrong glass will break your great wine

Riedel, the Austrian kings of glassware, were with us last week to tell us and show us just how much choosing your wine glass makes a difference to your appreciation of wine. This post will summarise what our attendees learned, as well as a few more general wine tasting principles.

Firstly, many thanks to Matt Knight from Riedel, who drove all the way down from Essex to be with us last Thursday evening. It's a long way to come for a small gathering, but it just goes to show the level of commitment that Riedel have in spreading their gospel. And there were quite a few convertees to the cause I think!

Riedel have been making glassware for centuries, and CEO Maximillian Riedel is the 11th generation of the family. What they do is as close to a perfect marriage of art and science as I can currently think of, other than the winemaking process itself, of course. But in order to better understand why their glasses are so clever, let's go back to the wine tasting process itself. What actually is physiologically and chemically happening when we taste wine?

  1. Firstly, we should think about the aromas. Between what we smell through the nose, and what we perceive through the mouth, the aromas of wine are, by far, the most important part of us enjoying wine. (So, when tasting wine, or anything for that matter, always smell it first!) Riedel were the first to realise that the shape of the glass plays a huge role in how we perceive these aromas. Are they delicate, and so need collecting, or are they big and bold and need to be kept in check more? Through an exhaustive process of trial and error, Riedel has come up with shapes which maximise the aromas of wines according to their primary grape variety. So, when you stick your nose in to a wine which has been poured into its specific glass, you will be getting the most out of that wine's aromas.
  2. Secondly, the shape of the lip itself will actually help concentrate the wine into the area of the mouth that will best appreciate that specific type of wine. So, and we tried this on Thursday, a high-acidity Sauvignon Blanc needs to be kept away from the sides of the mouth which is where the majority of the tongue's acidity receptors are. This means the wonderful fruity aromas are not potentially masked by the eye-watering acidity. Conversely, an oaky Chardonnay needs to be spread around the mouth more evenly to reveal the fruit behind that oak.
The results spoke for themselves. The very tasty South African Sauvignon Blanc we tried in the correct glass was lovely: vibrant tropical fruit, peaches and passionfruit. In the glass meant for Chardonnay, it was rendered virtually undrinkable. We also had one avowed anti-Chardonnay person who hated drinking that particular wine because she couldn't stand the oak flavours. Yet, when we put just such an example into the correct glass, she not only found she could appreciate many more flavours, but that she actually enjoyed it! Great stuff.

So if you have a wine that is a pet-hate because you think it's too oaky/fruity/tannic/boring, maybe it's actually the glass that is at fault, and not the wine or your taste-buds. It won't stop a bad wine from tasting bad, but it will mean you get the best out of the good ones.

And Matt was keen to point out that these principles apply to any drink. Champagne is really done no favours at all by being served out of either flutes or coupes - those glasses are designed more for visual impact and practicality than anything else. And Cognac should absolutely NOT be consumed out of the balloon glasses - all you'll smell is the alcohol. Even beers are best enjoyed in a glass that is designed specifically for it in mind.

Of course, no-one is expecting everyone to have a sideboard full with 23 different glass types for use depending on your wine moods. But at least making sure you have a couple of different glasses for lighter or fuller styles of both reds and whites, as well as perhaps a design that will allow more people to enjoy sparkling wines as they are meant to be tasted would really enhance your enjoyment.

Naturally, any reputable wine merchant should probably hold a stock of different styles of glasses and be able to advise on which ones would be best when. Does anyone know of a good one around Chagford..?