How do you make delicious wine taste even better? Invest in tailored glasses to savour your vino of choice, writes Codelia Mantsebo
'People don't want to buy wine in plastic glasses with a seal on top.' So said Duncan Bannatyne when he dismissed a hopeful entrepreneur on Dragon’s Den. If we are talking about taste rather than convenience, then Bannatyne definitely wasn’t wrong – no one wants to drink wine from a plastic cup (or indeed the type of wine that might come from that plastic cup).
So we’re all agreed that glass is the thing – but what sort of glass? Does a different glass alter the flavour of the wine, or is it all about aesthetics?
According to the wine experts at venerable Austrian glassware maker, Riedel Crystal, a glass should be a ‘wine tool’ designed to unlock a wine's full flavour potential. ‘There is so much more to wine than a price and a good looking bottle; you need to have the right tools as well,’ says Maximilian Riedel, the 11th generation CEO and President. And the most important tool is the wine glass, Riedel notes, perhaps unsurprisingly.
Since 1958, Riedel has produced glasses, tailored to appreciate more than 300 types of wines and grape varieties. As a result the perfect wine glass doesn’t exist: there is no everyday glass, into which you can pour wine and expect it to be delivered beautifully for both the nose and the palate. It’s all in the aromatics, and the way the wine hits your palate.
What Riedel, alongside other elite glass makers including Spiegelau, Zalto and Stolzle has proved, is that the taste of one wine can be perceived differently in taste and aromatics according to various wine glass types. Its glass architecture consists of three components – the bowl, the stem and the base – which should work together in harmony to translate the 'message' of the wine.
The bowl, which varies in shape, size and rim diameter, affects the sensations of the wine as you drink. This is due to a number of factors: the quantity of oxygen that reaches the wine and how much it can breathe, and the ‘space’ allowed for the face to be involved in drinking, thereby activating our senses. Red wine glasses tend to have a rounded bowl and a large opening to enhance full-bodied red wine varietals. A wider opening allows oxygen to get into the drink and gives the drinker the opportunity to nose the aromas. Bowls with a wide base that gently taper in toward the rim not only aerate the wine, but also usher delicate, perfumed aromas right to your nose. The narrower rims work best for lighter-bodied white wines.
The shape of the bowl also influences the direction in which the wine enters the mouth and which of the taste buds are engaged first. There are two ways of drinking; pressure and gravity. With a Martini – the glass slopes outward, designed for sipping, allowing you to apply a suction force to overcome the force of gravity. On the other hand, the champagne wine glass comes up to your palette a different way, the glass is designed for you to tip and sip so the tingle of delicate bubbles is experienced on the tip of the tongue. Its narrow, tube-like shape prolongs the bubbles, and the complex aromas from a vintage sparkler are directed straight to your nose as you sip.
Leaving no stone unturned….I spent an afternoon with Riedel, where I trialled the science behind this taste phenomenon. We tasted a number of fine wines in everything from plastic cups to hand-blown lead crystal. The results were plausible: what you put your wine into matters as much as the wine itself.
So now the question is: which wine glass type should you be using?
A glass with a wide bowl will allow red wine to breathe – the exposure to oxygen will mellow certain strong flavours and allow bolder notes to come through. The Bordeaux Grand Cru glass from Riedel is designed to bring out the full depth of contemporary wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. ‘The glass gives breathing space to both young and more mature wines, unpacking the various layers of bouquet and delivering a full spectrum of aromas. This is a glass that showcases majestically structured red wines in all their complexity and finesse,’ Riedel explains.
White wine glasses tend to have ‘U-shaped' bowls and more narrow openings to concentrate the sensory characteristics of lighter-bodied wines. The classic Riedel Chardonnay glass shape allows young wines to express all their invigorating freshness, while more mature wines are encouraged to deliver the nutty, spicy, mineral flavours so typical of the variety. Riedel states ‘the Chardonnay glass is designed for the wine’s low acidity to be delivered in a way that sets off the alcohol and rich flavours of the wine, highlighting its velvety, supple texture, emphasising the fruit and ensuring a long, balanced finish’.
For champagne and sparkling wine, opt for a champagne wine glass – not a flute. The larger diameter of the rim of the traditional champagne glass enables the aromatic layers of the fluid to be released, in a way which is not possible with a narrow flute. ‘This classically shaped glass was developed for light, fresh, dry champagnes to emphasise their creamy texture on the palate. The bubbles are not allowed to dominate, but are part of the overall pleasure’.
95 per cent of Riedel glasses are mouth blown from lead crystal. The glasses are tested by some of the world's best wine experts. By working with the experienced tasters and producers of a single wine region, iconic for producing wine from a specific variety of grape, processes of tastings and tests are conducted in order to develop a glass shape to enhance the taste of that grape. ‘When we design a glass, it always involves a sensory workshop with the aim of presenting the beverage to our senses; smell, taste, touch, and sight – in a way which enhances the experience. A glass should be to wine as a speaker is to music – it should present every subtle element and nuance, every detail, in the best way possible. At Riedel we essentially make tools which enable enjoyment,‘ Steve Mc Graw, Managing Director, Riedel UK.
When choosing the right wine glass for you, plan to invest in one glass, as much as you spend on average on a glass of wine. For serious appreciation, choose a varietal-specific glass best for the wine you tend to drink most frequently. If you choose a grape varietal specific Riedel glass, understand that it is built for a purpose and performs at its best with a specific type of wine.
Codelia Mantsebo is online writer at Spear's