Wine Glasses Matter

The  Riedel Experience at J. Lohr Vineyards 5/4/12

We were invited to  join a good friend for a Riedel Wine Glass Tasting Event at J. Lohr Vineyard's  San Jose location.  Mac and I thought, okay, it's $90 each but we get to  keep the glasses. At the last minute, we found out that Mac's sister was coming  to town so we joined her into our group which worked out very well since the  person who invited us decided not to go. They served nice appetizers before  so nobody got started tasting on an empty stomach.

We were seated with five  glasses placed in front of us; four of which were Riedel Vinum (Chardonnay,  Sauvignon Blanc, Burgundy and Bourdeaux) and the fifth of which was called a  "joker" which was a typical tulip shaped wine glass. For each one  we sniffed, swirled and sniffed again, and then tasted. We also switched glasses  with the same wines to show the difference, which was astounding.

The quality  of the glasses with 24% lead crystal was excellent, but it was the shape of  the glass, the way the wines smelled differently and the way that the shape  delivered the wine to sip that made the biggest differences. Robert Parker (The  Wine Advocate) certainly said it better than I can when he stated, "The  finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes are those made by Riedel.  The effect of these glasses on the wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough  what a difference they make."

Now I know that there are a lot of good  wine glasses out there and that a good number of them are designed for specific varietaIs. Whether you use Riedel or another brand of properly designed glasses, you should know that I am now a believer,  and you'll see why.

Tasting notes, including wine and glass comments are as  follows:

Sauvignon Blanc,  "Carol's Vineyard", St. Helena , Napa Valley, 2011. This is a  very nice Sauvignon Blanc with a big grapefruit nose. It has a lot of depth  and is well balanced with the grapefruit/citrus taste and just a little oily  texture. In the Riedel glass it was very rich for a Sauvignon Blanc. Then we  put it in the "joker" glass. The nose was dramatically reduced so  the grapefruit was very faint. The big difference was in the depth and balance  which seemed to go away almost completely. In the Riedel it was full, fruity,  and rich. In the "joker" it was flat and dull. Huge difference.

Chardonnay, Arroyo  Seco, Monterey County, 2011. This is a well oaked chardonnay that spent 18 months  in American oak. It also went through 100% malolactic fermentation so we  got all of the nice buttery-vanilla nose which added a little pear and flinty  minerality on the taste. This Chardonnay is one of those wonderfully creamy  ones with just a little bit of acidity on the finish. This was served in the  Chardonnay (Montrachet) glass, which is a very wide mouthed glass designed for  oaked Chardonnay. When we put it in the Sauvignon Blanc glass which is more  similar to the Riedel glass designed for unoaked Chardonnay, we lost most of  the creamy buttery taste and minerality that we tasted in the oaked Chardonnay  glass. Of all of the differences, this one shocked me the most. I wonder now  how many Chardonnays I considered to be only crisp or light when the reality  was that the oak and butter-vanilla was merely hidden by using the wrong glass.  It is the shape, much more than the quality of this glass that makes the difference.  

Pinot Noir, "Fog's  Reach", Arroyo Seco, Monterey County, 2010.  The nose gave me what  I call the classic leather and lace of a good Pinot Noir. It's got some very  nice cherry-berry flavores with just a tickle of acid on the finish. I found  it to be amazingly drinkable now for such a young Pinot Noir, but it had been  open and poured into the glass for about an hour and a half by the time we got  to it. The smaller rim on the Pinot Noir (Burgundy) Riedel glass concentrated  the fragrance and the flavor. When we put it into the Chardonnay (wide rimmed)  glass, this Pinot Noir lost much of its nose and seemed to be much less rich  and full. It made enough of a difference that I would probably buy it (okay  I did) if I tasted it in the Pinot Noir glass but might pass if I had it  in the Chardonnay glass.

Cabernet Sauvignon,  "Hilltop", Paso Robles, 2008. This Cabernet Sauvignon is 76% Cabernet  Sauvignon, 10% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot, and 7% Petite Sirah. It had a nice earthy  and dark berry nose. The taste was rich and dry currant/dark berry. It has been  open at least a couple of hours by the time we got this far, which I think would  be about the same as decanting it for at least two hours. I would say setting  this wine down for 3-4 years would soften the already reasonable tannins and  bring the fruit more to the front which will give it more richness and depth.  As it is, if you have the time to decant it, it's very nice now with good balance.  We didn't have to play with glasses on this one. It was right where it belonged  to start in the Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux) glass.

The overall glass  tasting experience taught me a lot. I realize that a lot of people will probably  poo-poo the idea that shaping the glasses to the particular varietals can make  a big difference. I had to taste it to believe it.

Good glassware is not inexpensive.  The Vinum series that we tasted costs around $34 each or you can buy two for  $50 at some places (yes I went shopping the day after the tasting). In sets  of 6 or 8, you can buy Riedel Vinum or Grape series for under $20/glass. If  you have the money and want hand-blown glasses, you can spend more with Riedel's  Sommelier series.  If you're drinking wines like we do that generally  average $20-$40 a bottle, the cost of glasses that allow the wines to be their  best seems like a very good investment. When you splurge on an expensive bottle,  the glass can pay for itself on the first sip. If you get confused on which  glass to use, you can download an iPhone app to match the wine to the glass  at www.riedel.com.


Side Note: The record at our place for the most wine glasses broken at a single time is five (we think but couldn't find all of the pieces) when I through a beachball at the back of Sherrill's (friend) head. Beachballs don't aim well and they can reek havoc on a patio table full of glasses.