Wine Adventures

The Riedels Rock

It’s All in the Glass

I confess that I don’t need a lesson in how the type of glass affects the taste of wine.  Debi and I have been to enough tastings, and sipped from dozens of different glasses.  Plus, at the Wine Experience a few years ago, Georg and Maximilian Riedel demonstrated the difference to about 1500 of us.  We tasted a wine out of a plastic cup, then out of several differently-shaped Riedel glasses, and the variation in the aromas and flavors was obvious to everyone in the room.

So the glass makes a difference – and quite often a major one.

The Riedel name has been synonymous with fine wine glasses since the 1750s.  (By the way, it rhymes with “needle.”)  In 1973, Claus Riedel (the 9th generation of the glassmaking family) introduced the “Sommelier Series,” the first mouth-blown glasses made to pair wines with a specific bowl shape.  He was also the first designer to discover that the bouquet and flavors of a wine were affected by the shape of the bowl.

The company conducts extensive research to determine what shapes are best for different wines.  Company President Georg Riedel told me that the process involves “a series of trial and error tastings,” something I’d very much like to participate in.  “Working with winemakers and sommeliers, we tweak the bowl shape and rim diameter to deliver wine in a fashion that best accentuates the properties of the given varietal on the taster’s palate,” he says.  “Within each glassware series, there are shapes for the world’s major wine varietals, including bowl shapes for new world and old world wines.”

Georg (L) and Maximilian Riedel

Anyone who buys and uses Riedel glasses soon discovers one thing about this company’s glassware – it’s hilariously fragile.  My mother-in-law once dropped an ice cube into one of them, and it went all the way through and out the bottom.  I told that to Georg.

“Riedel is known for creating some of the thinnest glasses on the market,” he responded.  “But we make numerous glassware lines that stand up to everyday wear and tear, both for home enjoyment and professional hospitality use.”

Another breakthrough that Riedel is known for is the “O” series of glasses.  These have the correct bowl shape for wine, but are stemless.  We’ve found them to be excellent for traveling, and they’re dishwasher safe.

Mr. Riedel also explained to me the process behind finding the perfect glass shape for different wine varietals.  “My son Maximilian and I conduct extensive workshops before a varietal-specific shape can make it to market.  We follow the Bauhaus principle:  form follows function.”

But surely, differences in the way individuals experience a certain wine must play a part?  “Yes,” says Georg Riedel.  “There is a degree of individuality to each person’s interpretation of a wine, but most sensory responses are directly affected by the vessel.  This doesn’t erase personal preference; there are those who simply prefer Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon. But we firmly believe that each varietal will taste its absolute best when served in a Riedel glass.”

At our house, we conduct numerous side-by-side tastings.  Every night, in fact.  It’s hard to disagree with Georg.

For this week’s recommendations, we sampled the following wines out of Riedel glasses.

Marina Cvetic Merlot Terre Aquilane 2010 ($40) – We’re big fans of Italian Merlot, because they generally make it in a richer, more concentrated style – like this one.  Dark ruby color, smoke, leather, dark cherry and chocolate on the nose, and rich currant and leather notes on the midpalate.  Soft mouthfeel with round, pleasant tannins  Great with or without food.  WS 91-92

Villa Gemma Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo Rosé 2014 ($13) – This Italian rose is great for summer sipping, with flavors of black cherry, violets, and lilac.  Light and easy-drinking.  WW 89