Have you ever bought what you thought was a fantastic bottle of wine after a wine tasting, only to taste it later and think: “I must have been drunk, this wine sucks?” I have. More than I’d like to admit. But, I’ve recently come to a startling realization: wine tastes best in the right glass.
Over the past umpteen years, I’ve become a little obsessed with seeking out amazing wines at affordable prices. I chronicle said wines in a moleskin that I keep with me. It never occurred to me that I should also note the glass in which these wines were served—until this past weekend. I attended a Riedel (pronounced Ree-dul) wine tasting and I have to admit I was a bit skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely uncivilized—I do serve red wine in a red wine glass, and white wine is a white wine glass—alas, even if it does create twice the cleanup—dishes be damned, but I digress.
So we sit down to a place setting of two white wines labeled 2 and 3, and two red wines labeled A and B, and what is referred to as the Joker, labeled 1 (the only non-Riedel glass). Skepticism abounds. The Joker is a typical, generic wine glass with a thick rim, squat bowl, thick ornamental stem, and a heavy base—it’s very aesthetic convinces me that no self-respecting wine could ever taste good in it.
And so we begin with the Grans-Fassian Riesling, 2009, served in glass #2. We look at the wine, it has a beautiful golden straw color, it’s nose is tropical fruit and citrus. The smell alone gets my taste buds jumping for joy, telling me that I am going to love this wine, yelling at me to taste it, taste it … so I do, and it’s delightful. And then we pour the wine into the Joker. Wah wah. The color is not as brilliant, it completely loses its smell, and it tastes like acid—the beautiful minerality is gone. We are then instructed to smell the empty Riedel glass from which we just poured this delightful wine—to my surprise, it still smells amazing.
I admit it—I’m impressed.
We move onto the Matanzas Creek Chardonnay, 2007, which is served in glass #3—which by the way has a bubble bowl (much like my red wine glasses at home), not the typical tall, thin chimney I associate with white wine. Similar to the first experience, we go through the motions, I LOVE this wine, we pour it into the Joker and the same thing happens. However, I now become less impressed with this demonstration—this glass is a joke, clearly all wine tastes bad in it.
Oh ye of little faith.
We then move onto a Cambria, Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2009, which is served in glass A, a tall chimney with an outward lip at the rim. This wine is also fantastic, generous notes of earth and spice; it’s well balanced with smooth acidity and soft tannins. But, then something amazing happens: we pour the wine into Glass #2 (the Riedel Chardonnay glass [yes it was empty, and yes, I did clean it] that I would normally serve red wine in due to it’s bubble shape) and it profoundly changes the taste of the wine—it’s all acid, the dimensions disappear, my mouth takes on that cotton-mouth feeling of the morning after. Yuck—I would send this wine back.
So, what is happening? The shape of the wine glass determines how the liquid is delivered to your palate and affects both the gustatory receptors on the tongue and olfactory receptors beneath your eyes completely changing the way the wine tastes.
Honestly, I love drinking out of fine leaded crystal that makes me feel like I should be sitting on a lovely veranda somewhere over the Pacific, but I had no idea that a varietal specific wine glass does more than make me feel Sunset Magazine fancy—it allows the wine to taste the way the wine maker intended it to. So, now what? Do I buy a large cabinet to house my many varietal specific wine glasses (because I love all wines). Well, as my husband pointed out, this is clearly not realistic. I’ve decided to start with the glasses that are intended for my four favorite varietals—for now. They are the Vinum XL Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Riesling Gran Cru, and Montrachet (Chardonnay).
Riedel has an impressive series of different glasses including both mouth-blown and machine-blown lead and non-lead crystal. I recommend logging onto the Riedel website to see which glass will be best for you. If, like my husband, you’re not ready to invest in varietal specific glasses, Riedel offers wine-friendly glasses as well.
For the love of Bacchus, if you are the kind of person who is willing to spend more than $30 on a bottle of wine, invest in the right glass—you’ll enjoy your wine so much more. For me, my new party trick is to dust off the old glasses and do a comparison wine tasting—amazing my friends with “what a difference a glass makes.”