“When you leave tonight, you’re going to be very confused. I’m going to complicate your wine life,” promised Maximilian Riedel, 11th generation member of the Riedel wine glass company as he led 100 wine enthusiasts through a masterclass tasting this past Thursday in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I walked into Riedel’s masterclass a lover of my recently acquired Riedel set from Target, but a skeptic of the need for “Grape Varietal Specific®” stemware. I left having drank the proverbial kool-aid. As you read on you’ll learn why, but first I want to mention in full disclosure that I received a comp ticket to the event ($60 value) — my husband did purchase a full-price ticket to join, and left feeling just as enlightened.
Riedel glasses – do they really work?
Riedel unveiled their new “Performance” collection at this event – these glasses are massively sized: take for example, the Cabernet glass at a whopping 29 oz (857 ml) — that’s more than an entire bottle of wine. That said, its not meant to hold more than a standard 5-oz pour, yet its sized large for a reason according to Riedel, global warming. If you’re thinking this concept is “fake news”, consider the ever-increasing percentage of alcohol in California Cabernet Sauvignon. Sugar levels are climbing in grapes due to warm growing seasons, and this ability to get really ripe is resulting in alcohol levels exceeding 15%!
If you’ve ever taken a whiff of a wine and experienced a burning sensation in your nose or eyes, you could have been perceiving a high level of alcohol. A larger bowl in proportion to the wine will help lift the aromas to your nose, leaving that hot burn of alcohol behind. Don’t fill your 29-oz glass half-full just because its big enough.
It also stands to reason that a larger bowl leaves a larger surface area of wine exposed to oxygen, and is more rapidly aerating the wine within.
Shape and Aroma
The Riesling glass features a tall bowl and comparatively small diameter rim, and provided a bouquet of aromas: from floral to oily, stone fruit, citrus and mineral. The Grüner presented itself as a complex and appealing wine.
In glassware with a larger bowl and rim (Chardonnay and Cabernet), the delicate aromas were lost, leaving a singular aroma of bitter lemon. The complexity was gone, and it was almost varietally indistinguishable.
I have experienced this same concept when looking for aromas in my own glassware: tipping the glass to a 45-degree angle, I detect lighter and more floral aromas toward the top of the rim, and heavier fruit and spice aromas toward the bottom. I challenge you to try it with any old glass you like, let me know what you find!
Lastly, we dumped the Grüner into the plastic cup where it transformed into “airplane wine”, as my husband put it, where the wine became entirely devoid of any aroma other than the petrol of the serving cup.
Shape and Flavor
Riedel glassware’s shape theory involves how and where the wine hits your palate. A smaller diameter rim will land the wine closer to the tip of your tongue, a larger diameter rim will deliver it further back on your palate. While taste maps are controversial in science — refer to this article from the University of Florida debunking the tongue taste map — in practice, the shape of the glass did influence how I experienced the wine.
Take for example, a sip of Pinot Noir paired with white chocolate. Chewing a bite of chocolate, then drenching the pasty chocolate with a sip of Pinot Noir from its specific stem lent to an experience likened to fresh strawberries dipped in decadent, melted white chocolate.
“It’s the only glass that gives you a french kiss, designed so that the lip of the rim barely touches the tip of the tongue, making sure that this acidic [Pinot Noir] goes to the receptor of fruit, boosting fruit, balancing acidity and minerality,” stated Riedel.
Well, I’ll be a believer: when tasting the same wine, with the same chocolate, only from sipping from the cabernet stem, the pairing revealed itself as bitter and made for an unenjoyable experience.
But really, are they worth the price?
Ranging from roughly $15/glass to upwards of $130/glass there’s a stem built by Riedel for every kind of wine lover and their pocket book, too.
You don’t have to be a wine expert to appreciate a vessel with fine design and precision construction: a delicate glass with a thin rim and elegant, long stem is a delight to experience.
Having an awareness of how the size, shape, and construction of your glassware can affect your perception can help you make the best decision with what you have to pick from in your cabinet, too: Riedel’s online glass finder is one helpful tool that allows you to input a variety, and outputs recommended stems. Compare those to what you have in your collection, and pick the best fit.
Perhaps it was Riedel’s Austrian accent combined with his sharp, dark suit and brilliant red pocket square — but the performance was also a touch of magic reminiscent of Houdini himself, in spite of the science behind the glassware.
Is my wine life more complicated now? Maybe a little!
I was enchanted by the masterclass and Maximilian Riedel was an excellent guide.
I’m delighted to have walked away a believer in the magic of Riedel, but I’m also also excited to experiment more with this new stemware set, and really put it to the test on my own terms. After all, it’s not often one is presented with the same wine in different glasses for comparative purposes. I’ll get “studying” to bring you a follow-up — which glasses showcase Minnesota Marquette or Minnesota La Crescent the best? I’m excited to find out!
What do you think of Grape Varietal Specific® glassware? Let me know in the comments below!