“The aromatic difference between a rose petal and chickenshit is all in the size and contact point of its molecule to the nose.” ~ Ascribed to Mr. Georg Josef Riedel, CEO of Riedel Glassware
This afternoon, I went over to Urban Enoteca and participated in a tasting put on by Riedel to showcase their wine glasses and the effect of glassware on the taste and enjoyment of fine wine. The event was started off with the above quote. What a way to start a wine tasting session, with thoughts of chickenshit on the brain to provide focus. In the end it could not of been a better way to do it. It provocatively set the stage for testing an idea I had previously held as an overblown myth; glassware matters when it comes to tasting, judging and enjoying fine wines. Well after today I will never again critically taste, let alone enjoy, a fine wine again without considering the glassware it is presented in.
My approach to this tasting informally leaned on the scientific method; throw a hypothesis out on the tabletop and then disprove it. I came in believing the whole wineglass-shape-legend-thing was nothing more than marketing hype to get unknowing people to pay a lot money for an overpriced commodity product: drinking glasses.
The tasting consisted of a solid flight of Washington Chardonnay, Riesling, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon wines presented in wine style specific glasses and a plastic cup. The wines were tasted first from the “wrong” Riedel glass, then a plastic cup, then the “right” Riedel glass, or different combinations thereof.
The myth quickly was affirmed, glassware does matter. Each wine clearly smelled and tasted not only better, but totally different when presented in the proper glass for its style.
The defining moment of the tasting, a visceral one at that, was when we put the Syrah through the wash-spin-rinse-repeat cycle of the tasting. The guest of honor for this was the 2005 Cuvee Orleans Syrah by McCrae Cellars. First we smelled and tasted it in the Reidel Glass made for Syrah (Rhone style red wine) it was, in a word, excellent. Then we tasted the same wine and tasted it from a glass designed for Bordeaux style red wines. The wine was good, but had clearly lost a substantial portion of its aromatics, along with becoming a bit closed in taste. Then we tried the Syrah in a Riesling style glass. In an instant the rose petal turned into chickenshit. It no longer tasted like quality Syrah, but rather some cut rate plonk with heavy overtones of a rotting vegetable garden. Without thinking or being told to, I immediately poured the wine back into the proper glass, and SHAZAM…the chickenshit morphed back into the rose petal and the high quality Syrah returned. The myth was once again affirmed!
During the tasting, Mr. Daniel Vu from Riedel was explaining, at a high level, how the Riedel wine glasses are scientifically designed to to each specific style of wine to deliver the different aromatic and flavor elements of each wine on to our palettes. He was using the tasting experience as proof of this explanation. I’m convinced. As a side note many restaurants pour both red and white wines in Riesling glasses, especially Italian restaurants. So please consider this experiment the next time you have red wine at a restaurant and it does not come in the proper glass. It may not be the wine that is not up to par, but rather the glass it is served in is wrong thereby fouling the wine experience.
If you would like to “mythbust” this for yourself it is easy to do. You can set up a do-it-yourself Riedel Tasting as follows:
1) Get a Riedel Ouverture Series Chardonnay glass and Bordeaux glass, along with a plastic cup. The Ouverture line is one of Riedel’s most affordable.
2) Next pour Chardonnay into a Riedel Chardonnay glass. Smell & taste it, then pour the wine into a Riedel Bordeaux glass. Again, smell and taste it, then pour the wine into plastic cup. Again, smell and taste it, then pour the remaining wine back into the Riedel Chardonnay glass. Again, smell and taste it, then make your own evaluation as to which glass the Chardonnay looks, smells and tastes better in.
3) Next, pour a Cabernet Sauvignon into a Riedel Bordeaux glass. Smell and taste it, then pour the wine into the Riedel Chardonnay glass. Again, smell and taste it, then pour the wine into the plastic cup. Again, smell and taste it, then pour the wine back into a Riedel Bordeaux glass. Again, smell and taste it, then make your own evaluation as to which glass the Cabernet or Bordeaux blend looks, smells and tastes better in.
My bet is that you will come up with the same answers as I, and the 15 other people, did in today’s tasting. To make this test even more productive I strongly recommend that you do this with an Off-Dry Riesling and a Syrah, using the Riedel Riesling and Syrah glasses as well. Expand the smell and taste cycles through all five glasses for each of the wines, the differences should be very dramatic. The use of the Riesling glass in the cycle really highlights the effect of glassware on your sense of smell and taste of the various wines in this experiment. If you do this, I think you will be astounded by the real affect glassware has on your enjoyment of fine wine.