Have you ever tasted a wine in a restaurant, fell in love with it…but when you tasted it again, it was…..well…..less than spectacular?? You might think to yourself, maybe the food made a difference…..or maybe it was because it was our second bottle…..or maybe I just remembered wrong. I have another option to offer…….maybe it was the glass.
The glass?? How can the glass make a difference?? You might think that glass shape is all smoke and mirrors……simply existing to get consumers to purchase more glasses. I am here to tell you that the glass shape and quality make the biggest difference in the wine tasting experience.
The Man and I attended a wine tasting hosted by Riedel. Although I had long become an advocate for using quality stemware to enhance the wine tasting experience, The Man was a newbie in the world of wine and was still a bit….skeptical.
The Riedel tasting was a sold out event at Vine and Table in Carmel, Indiana. This was the perfect opportunity to taste wine, be social, and of course, take home a tasting set of Riedel glasses. We sat down to our tasting stations with paper placemats indicating the type of glasses we will be using. Place number 1 was for the joker glass…..you know….the glass you find at most catered events, many restaurants, and in most homes……that thick, clunky wine glass with the rolled rim at the top (we call it the wine speed bump). Place numbers 2 and 3 were the Vinum XL Montrachet (Chardonnay) glass and Vinum XL Riesling Grand Cru glass (also used for Sauvignon Blanc). Places A and B on the right were used for the Vinum XL Pinot Noir (such a sexy glass) and Vinum XL Cabernet Sauvignon glasses respectively. In the middle was a plastic cup – I shuddered at the thought!!
Our Riedel facilitator, Sean Petrie, started with the statement, “Wine can be intimidating.” Isn’t that the truth! He went on to explain that tasting wine uses many of the senses–not just taste. The first sense encountered in tasting is sight. The color of the wine gives you an indicator of what it is going to taste like. The Riedel glass is a clear and unadorned lead glass (24% lead); giving you a clear picture of the wine you are about to taste. The moment you see the wine is the first decision point of whether or not you are going to like the it.
The wine tasting experience also uses the sense of touch. Touch?? Really?? Touch is the feel of the glass in your hand – how the wine swirls in the glass. Does the glass feel balanced? The stem and the bowl should be balanced. Nothing hampers your experience like a clunky, heavy glass with a bowl that doesn’t allow the wine to swirl or be seen.
The sense of smell is very important to tasting wine. The bouquet gives clues to the intricate layers of the wine. Smell is directly linked to the sense of taste. In my experience, the glass makes the world of difference in the registry of smell. For example, the Pinot glass is designed to enhance the bouquet–when you tilt the glass to taste, the smell permeates your senses…..sometimes I like to simply smell the wine for a while before I taste (yes, I am a geek). The molecules inside the crystal glass helps the wine coat the inside of the glass which enhances the bouquet of the wine and helps the legs of the wine to be seen (those drippy little lines falling down the sides of the glass).
The first wine we tasted was the Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc poured into the Riesling Grand Cru glass. I loved, loved, loved smelling this wine! The wine was wonderfully grapefruity with a hint of spice. It has a nicely balanced fruit-forward bouquet. It was a pleasure to drink.
After the initial tasting, the wine was poured into the joker glass. Swirling the wine in this glass felt….well….clunky. When I smelled the wine, it seemed one-dimensional…not too complex. There were no layers to the wine. It simply tasted like water…..nothing to it. The thicker joker glass draws the coolness out of the liquid in order to cool itself and leaves the wine inside it dull and unbalanced.
We poured the wine into the plastic cup……urgh….it tasted like cheap $4 boxed wine. It was bad….it smelled like medicine. The plastic cup doesn’t trap inside any of the essence of the wine. It tasted sweet-ish….in a bad way. We poured the wine back into the Riesling Grand Cru glass – – well hello, Beautiful!! All the essence was back. The wine was once again smooth and enjoyable.
Next, we sampled the Mondavi Chardonnay. In the Montrachet glass, the chardonnay was buttery smooth and delicious. When poured into the joker glass, the wine became sour and unappetizing. The bouquet changed dramatically as the joker glass caused the wine to smell alcoholic and bitter. The Man looked at me and said, “This is undrinkable!” We then poured the wine into the Riedel Riesling glass…..a nice glass, but with the wrong design for the wine. In the Riesling glass, the Chardonnay had absolutely no smell….no butter. There was nothing really interesting to the wine at all…..it just seemed….flat. Quite honestly, this was a surprise for me…..the dramatic change in tasting a white wine in two different Riedel glasses. It was amazing!! We poured the wine back into the Montrachet glass and the buttery richness returned. The whole room shouted Hooray!! (Dramatic License).
According to Sean, the wrong glass puts the wine in the wrong place on your palate. The right glass puts fruit-forward wines in the sweet area of your palate – the tip of your tongue. With the proper glass, the tongue comes forward to take a sip, enhancing the fruit. The salt sensor is in the middle of your palate. The proper glass places the wine in the middle of your palate for optimal tasting. That buttery taste found in Chardonnay is registered in the middle of your palate.
Next came the Pinot – the “A” glass. We tilted the glass to the side to get an idea of how the wine moved within the glass. The Pinot Noir glass puts the wine on the tip of your palate to register fruit and then off to the side of your palate…to register the more acidic qualities. We poured the Pinot into the joker glass. The participants were as restless as first graders assigned a book report – Do we HAVE to pour it in the joker glass?? In the joker glass, the once-balanced pinot became overly vanilla with a strong alcoholic taste. It tasted ucky!! If I first tasted the wine in this glass, I wouldn’t buy it. We poured the wine into glass number 2, the Montrachet glass – – you know—the half fishbowl glass that many restaurants tote as their red wine glass. Sean called this design, the “Red Wine Killer.” The Montrachet glass was perfect for the chardonnay, but when we poured the Pinot Noir into the glass, it became sour and bitter. We poured the wine back into the Pinot glass – Hooray!! The Pinot returns! We did the same thing with the Cabernet – poured it into the Montrachet (Red Wine Killer) glass. In the Montrachet glass, it tasted too fruity with a flat aftertaste. We poured the Cabernet back into the Vinum Cabernet glass and the Mondavi Cabernet became more nuanced with a peppery vanilla and oak flavor….very smooth….velvety. The Man remarked, “All the floral is gone in the joker glass. It’s like smelling a rose then smelling the stem of the rose.”
The glass makes all of the difference. Sean told the group that a good guide to purchasing wine glasses is to look at how much you typically spend on a bottle of wine. The quality of your glass should match the quality of your wine. If you typically spend $22 for a bottle of wine, then you should spend $22 for a wine glass. However, even if you buy more value-priced wine, the glass will still enhance the wine tasting experience. Sean remarked, “The right glass will make 2-Buck-Chuck taste like $3.50-Chuck!”
Wine is about the experience – from the pop sound the cork makes, to the joy of pouring a glass of wine at the end of the day…candles flickering, music playing. We don’t drink Cab shots, we savor our wine….so why not enhance the experience with a quality wine glass. I did…..and it makes all the difference in the world.
Check out Becky’s blog, The Divorced Diva’s Guide to Survival www.divorced-diva.blogspot.com