Monday, September 17, 2007

Stemware Revelation

One of the seminars that we attended at the WineFest was a wine tasting held by Riedel Glassworks (it's pronounced REE-d'l, by the way) who have dominated the market for specialty glassware for wine tasting. They contend that the shape and size of the glass is absolutely critical to enjoying wine, and that each varietal or style of wine has a specific glass shape and style that will enhance the wine. Drinking even a great wine from the wrong glass will render it a poor shadow of itself.

To be honest, I have always been skeptical of any claims that the "right glass" will make or break a wine. I figured it was all a ploy to sell wine glasses for a hundred bucks a stem. If each type of wine needs its "own" glass, you'd have a shelf-ful of different shapes and sizes, all worth a mint!

Well, I'm a convert.

I never would have believed it without actually tasting it myself. We did side-by-side comparisons of an American style Chardonnay, a new-world Sauvignon Blanc, a local Pinot Noir, and a Cabernet Sauvignon, all in the glasses that Riedel had specified for them. Then we tasted the same wine (literally poured it from the "right" glass into the default wineglass provided by the festival) to see what happened. And then we tasted the same wines again, in the "wrong" Riedel glass. It was really eye-opening.

Neither the Adorable Husband or I usually like American-style Chardonnay; it's usually one-dimensional, too highly oaked or too oily. We avoid them if at all possible. In the specific glass from Riedel (an odd shape for a white-wine glass -- it's more like the traditional balloon glass for red wine) it was a multi-layered, complex white. We could taste the vanilla from the oak, but weren't overwhelmed by it. Pour the same wine into the "joker glass", as they called it, and it really was the one-dimensional, overly harsh wine that I love ot hate. Even with the added benefit of aeration as we poured to the bad glass, it was still harsh. Back into the Riedel glass and the harshness dissappeared.

The Sauvignon Blanc was the biggest change -- and probably cemented the realization that the glass really did have an impact. In the "right" glass (a tall, tulip-shaped glass) for Sauv Blanc, and it was a bright wine with hints of melon and pear, lightly acidic, bright and lively. In the bad glass, it was acidic, the nose was harsh, and all we could taste was the bitterness of citrus. Poured into the balloon glass we tried the Chardonnay in, it had the same flavors, if a bit acidic, but the nose was entirely gone. Repeat the same experiment with two red wines.

The shape of the bowl, where the rim is on the curve, the height of the bowl, all these things make a huge difference in how the wine tastes. Cheap wineglasses (the Target and Crate and Barrell variety, of which we have many) usually have a rolled edge, not a flat, cut edge, which really kills the wine. I may have to become a wine-glass snob. The rep running the tasting said that he knows many people who bring their own glasses to restaurants, because most restaurants have mass-produced, standard wine glasses, despite the fact that they might have bottles worth hundreds of dollars on the wine list. Of course, at the standard markup on wine at most restaurants, they could replace the stemware for each bottle sold.

I'm not going to be shelling out big bucks for the Sommelier line of glasses, which can run to that hundred bucks a stem that I mentioned, but we are definitely going to pick up glasses in their Vinum range, especially for the varieties of wines that we really enjoy. Both are 24% leaded crystal, and other than the fact that the Sommelier glasses are handmade and the Vinum glasses are machine made, there really isn't any difference in the way they work. At least, that's what the sales guy was telling us. He never even flogged the higher-priced glasses, which was a pleasant surprise, from a sales rep.

Target is selling a line of glasses from Riedel that are aimed at the consumer market. They use the same engineering, but are not leaded glass and are a bit more generic than the type/variety specific glasses in the other lines. But well-worth buying as 'everyday' wine glasses, as opposed to the standard rolled-rim glasses.

No comments: