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Jul 20

Glassware Matters (Part 1): Riedel Seminar

On our last day at sea on the Cruise Ship, we took a Riedel (rhymes with "needle") glassware seminar. It was actually a really interesting seminar, just in the way they forced you to compare the glasses.

The ship team of sommeliers all participated in the presentation, and
one of the first things they said was the clearest: Glasses are the
loudspeaker of the wine, instruments to increase your enjoyment."

We started out with 5 different glasses spread out in front of us. Four of those were from the Riedel Vinum set (Chardonnay, Burgundy/Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Bordeaux). The fifth glass was labeled as the Joker glass (ie, generic) and is the wine glass that was standard throughout the cruise ship and was not Riedel. It's worth noting that every time I've judged a wine competition, we've used similar generic glasses.

We received the wine one pour at a time, starting with the Sauvignon Blanc and then we started pouring and tasting wine as follows:

1. Sauvignon Blanc in the Sauvignon Blanc glass
2. Sauvignon Blanc in the Joker glass
3. Chardonnay in the Chardonnay glass
4. Chardonnay in the Sauvignon Blanc glass
5. Sauvignon Blanc in the Chardonnay glass
6. Chardonnay in the Joker glass
7. Pinot Noir in the PN glass
8. Pinot Noir in the Chardonnay glass
9. Bordeaux (in this case, Shiraz) in the Bordeaux glass
10. Bordeaux in the Pinot Noir glass
11. Pinot Noir in the Bordeaux glass
12. Bordeaux in the Joker glass

Needless to say, with all the pouring and switching going on, you really had to pay attention.

Riedel uses the idea of a Tongue Map to prove that glassware matters, and that directing wine to a particular part of your tongue makes a difference in what you taste. Now, the Tongue Map has been debunked, although it does have its roots in accuracy. From what I've read, while your tongue isn't strictly laid out in the maps areas, certain taste buds are slightly stronger in these areas as compared to other locations. So while you might pick up acid all over your tongue, it's strongest on the sides. As a general guide, our sommeliers told us that we pick up more acidity on the sides of our tongue, harshness/bitterness towards the back, and sweetness in the front, with weight of a beverage landing in the middle. 

So did it make a difference? Of course. Keeping in mind that holding a feather-weight, lovely glass in your hand can also influence your perceptions. However, the Estancia Chardonnay tasted soft, with less oak, and full of vanilla when I tasted it in the Vinum Chardonnay glass. When it was moved to the Sauvignon Blanc glass, it  had more compressed flavors and higher acidity. I didn't care for it. In the Joker glass, there were no aromas and what had been a decent wine before was suddenly harsh and poorly balanced. It made me consider that perhaps I would like Chardonnay a little more if I drank it out of proper glassware on a regular basis.

Perhaps the one that stood out the most for me was the Kendall-Jackson Pinot Noir. I'm not a huge Kendall-Jackson fan, and I admit I scrunched my nose up when they poured the Pinot Noir into my Burgundy glass. The Pinot had soft aromas of earth and vanilla. Supposedly, the glass sent the wine directly to the center of my tongue, so I tasted a Pinot Noir reminiscent of what I smelled: softness, earth, vanilla, with just a hint of oak. Later, the KJ Pinot Noir ended up in the Joker glass and I hated it. I commented to Kevin that this was what I'd expected the Pinot Noir to taste like from the beginning. Again, maybe I should break out my Riedel glassware more often.

Another interesting note was on the Bordeaux glass, which we used for an Aussie Shingleback 2005 Shiraz. The Bordeaux glass is what our sommeliers said can serve as the Riedel All-Purpose glass. But they also called it the Tannin Tamer and I experimented with that later at the wine bar. Dump any tannic wine into this glass and it does lessen them to a certain degree – at least in compared to the Joker glass.

Although I'd been sold on the concept of glassware making a difference before the Riedel seminar, this excellent demonstration rather drove the point home. I do believe there are elements of visual expectation and psychology involved in it, and I'd drink wine in a paper cup if you gave it to me that way, but glassware does matter.

Tomorrow I'll talk a little more about general glassware tips. After all, we can't all afford Riedel. (Luckily, Kevin and I each got a set included with the seminar.)

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Posted by Michelle at 10:08 am in Knowledge, Tastings, Wine Misc, Wine Tech | Permalink | Comments (7)

7 Responses to “Glassware Matters (Part 1): Riedel Seminar”

  1. winebratsf says:

    So…I’m curious –
    If good glassware makes bad or mediocre wine better, so good glassware make a difference in your favorite wine?

  2. Michelle says:
    In my experience, breaking out the fancy Riedels does make my favorite wine taste even better. Now as I noted, some of this is visual expectation (gorgeous glass in hand) and psychological (gorgeous custom glass MUST make wine taste better), but I really think there is a little something to the science as well. 
  3. Gary O'Brien says:

    I used to teach a Riedel class, and it is absolutely amazing to taste the differences side by side. While I agree that the Bordeaux glass can be used for a wide range of wines, I do fine that whites don’t do nearly as well in this glass. Actually, Riedel recommends the Zinfandel glass as their “universal” glass, though I don’t 100% agree with that either. We only use Riedel at home – the vinum series Bordeaux, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Champagne flute – for all our wines. We also have the Overture series for entertaining, and keep a couple of Zinfandels in the car for attending events where there aren’t good glasses.

  4. Michelle says:

    Gary: I’d love to know more about teaching Riedel classes. Admittedly I’ve always been a convert, but the actual seminar we went through was so fantastic and interactive. I’d love to be able to teach something like that. Any ideas on who I’d contact?

  5. Gary O'Brien says:

    The store that I worked for in Birmingham was an authorized Riedel reseller, and we originally had our Riedel rep come over from Atlanta to host the classes but after a couple of these we decided to just do them ourselves.
    From the description in your blogpost, it sounds very similar to the “offical” Riedel class — i.e. 4 glasses + the joker, taste each wine in multiple glasses… we also threw in a champagne flute at the beginning (but not as a comparative tasting) and occasionally would venture out to other glasses like port or single malt (which is where I developed a love of single malt scotch!).
    I’ll dig through some of my old files and see if I can find some of the material and e-mail them to you. Otherwise, the short answer to your question would probably be to contact the Riedel representative for the Cincinnati area — I’d guess your contacts at Liquor Direct would know who that is.

  6. Matthew says:

    The Tongue Map has been disproved time and again. Each taste bud can taste all flavors. The wine glasses from Riedel have no basis in science and any taste difference is based on psychological perception.


  7. Jenn McNamee says:

    I love Riedel glasses as well as their competition and on the psychology of the post below or above and whether it works, i was at Franciscan in Napa and had the side by side and the glass made a huge difference ….. a $120 sale difference as we walked out with a set of 6. We broke them over time to our sadness. But discovered
    It is a safe way to dry fragile and especially expensive stemware.

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