Vinum XL Wine Glass Seminar Pt. 2
June 10, 2009 by Doug Haugen
As I reported on Monday, I went to a Vinum XL Wine Glass Seminar with Victoria Odell of Seattle Swirl. It was conducted by Georg Riedel, who was not only knowledgeable about wine and stemware, but was also really entertaining. He explained right off to the skeptics that we’d be able to discern more differences with his stemware than just the difference between wine and dog shit.
We started with the Sauvignon Blanc glass, filled with, of course, Sauvignon Blanc. We smelled, we tasted, and Georg described what he was getting out of the wine, guessing accurately that it was blended with Semillon. OK, great. Then he had us pour the wine into a plastic cup just like the ones you get on commercial airlines. As you would expect, it killed the nose on the wine, but oddly, the flavor profile and mouth-feel changed dramatically as well. Trickery? Power of suggestion? We’ll see about that.
Next, we tried a Chardonnay in the Montrachet glass. A Montrachet glass looks just like the glasses you often see photographed with red wine in them, which Georg explained is stupid, and he made us promise never to drink red wine out of a glass like that. After sipping the wine, noting the characteristics, he had us pour it into the now-empty Sauvignon Blanc glass. The nose, flavor profile and mouth-feel changed drastically. It reduced the best aspects of the wine, and emphasized other characteristics to a degree that they became unattractive. We then poured the Sauvignon Blanc into the Montrachet glass, and the same was true. It not only wasn’t the same wine, but it was worse.
Then, we moved to reds. We drank a Pinot Noir out of a Burgundy glass. This glass has the exact same bowl as the Montrachet (“Trust me on this one, I made the glass,” Georg told us), but had added height with a curved lip. Georg, in honest full-disclosure, told the event organizer that he didn’t like the wine itself, and that even in his best glass, it was a failure. Still, we then poured it into the Montrachet glass (remember, it has the same bowl but without the additional height and flourish), and while the wine was OK in the Burgundy glass, it was nearly undrinkable in the Montrachet glass. The tannins became bitter and unpleasant.
Lastly, we tasted a Cabernet Sauvignon in the Cabernet Sauvignon glass. It was delicious. We then poured it into the Burgundy glass, and the biggest difference was the mouth-feel. The nose was predictably different, but on the palate, the tannins became harsh and gritty. I then moved the Cab to the Montrachet glass, and the tannins became downright nasty, forcing my face to twist up all pretzel-like.
This was really the “ah-ha” moment for me. I moved the Cab around several times, with the same result. I finally poured a little into the three glasses, and had Victoria try them one after the other while I watched her face. Cabernet Sauvignon glass (smile), Burgundy glass (grimace), Montrachet glass (pretzel-face).
How is this possible? Georg said the secret lies in physics–it’s how the glass delivers the wine to your palate. Some force you to tip your head back a little. Some deliver the wine straight to the middle of the tongue, some to the front, some narrow and some wide. This would make sense in terms of which characteristics you experienced first, but if you’re in the habit of swishing wine around in your mouth to get a total sensation, why would the mouth-feel be so different? More research is going to be necessary. But, the fact remains, different glass-shapes have a profound effect on the way a wine tastes.
So, the question remains, what is the “true” nature of a wine? Is the effect of the “right” wine glass analogous to lipstick and rouge? Is the “wrong” wine glass ruining the wine, or merely revealing the flaws? Take the Cabernet Sauvignon, and the difference in the mouth-feel from the tannins, how tannic was the wine in all actuality?
Most wineries and tasting rooms use a standard tasting glass for all of their wines, whether they be red or white. In fact, the International Organization for Standardization feels very strongly about this, and have developed a standard wine tasting glass. On their website, they say, “Analytical wine tasting is impersonal and objective…Tasting, therefore, needs to be conducted with a systematic approach in order to analyse the technical components. Professional tasting is done under strict conditions, including identical glasses.” The glass has very specific dimensions, and has become the international standard for professional tasting. Perhaps this is the way to get at the “true” wine.
Regardless, using stemware like the variety Riedel has to offer may remarkably increase your enjoyment of wines, emphasizing the characteristics that Riedel’s team has determined should be most prominent. In fact, Riedel has adjusted the design of their glasses over time as wine styles have evolved. Some glasses have even become obsolete–Georg explained that his grandfather (a predecessor at the Riedel company) had a different preference for flavors in certain wines.
I will say that the wines that we were able to taste were the most enjoyable in the glasses intended for them. If you’re looking to drink casually, you may want to pick up a set or two. If you’re looking to geek out and “objectively” evaluate wine at home, you may want to pick up a set of the standards.
To see Victoria’s take on the tasting, read her blog post.