The Riedel Veritas series of wine glasses.Courtesy of Riedel
Participants go through the guided tasting exercise at the Riedel comparative glassware event in Portland.Victor Panichkul / Statesman Journal
George Riedel, the 10th generation to lead Riedel, guides participants through a comparative glassware tasting in Portland on July 23.Victor Panichkul / Statesman Journal
A few weeks ago, while I was on staycation, I received an interesting invitation from Riedel, the wine glass manufacturer.
The invitation was for a comparative glassware tasting of wine being hosted by 10th generation head of Riedel Crystal, Georg Riedel.
I posted the question on my Facebook page: Does the wine glass make a difference? My friends started chiming in: Yes! It’s more polite than drinking out of the bottle. Depends on if its the first, second, third.
Not fazed, I accepted the invitation. Even though I was on vacation, I was going to take myself off the vacation clock just to attend the event to find out more and write about it.
Turns out it was an eye-opening experience. And the person who said “Yes!” to my question posted on Facebook was right.
About 100 people, mostly restaurant managers and owners, gathered at Urban Studio in Portland for the event on July 23.
As we squeezed pass the entrance and into the space, everything looked like it was set up for a typical wine tasting: rows of tables with chairs, each spot set with four glasses and a spit cup. In front of each wine glass were plastic cups, each filled with pinot noir, syrah and cabernet sauvignon.
But once the event started, it was clear that the purpose wasn’t necessarily to taste and evaluate the wine, but to evaluate if the glass made a difference on how you perceived wine with your senses.
“The wine glass is the translator for the wine,” said Riedel, describing how the shape of the wine glass as well as how the glass is made conveys not-so-hidden messages between the wine and your palate, including mouthfeel, flavor and texture.
“There’s an architecture to the glass that influences how wine enters your mouth,” Riedel said.
Bottles of chilled Evian were passed to each participant, and we were instructed to pour about 4 ounces into one of Riedel’s new superthin Veritas series New World Shiraz, New World Pinot Noir and Cabernet glasses.
The New World Pinot Noir glass has a large bowl shape that tapers at the top and then curves back out. It’s the shape of what Riedel has called its Oregon Pinot Noir glass. Riedel asked us to take a sip from this glass and notice what our tongue does. And then he asked us to take sips of water from the other two glasses. With the reverse curve of the New World Pinot Noir glass, I noticed that my automatic reflex was to push my tongue up against the surface of the glass to meet the curve. The cold water was then distributed over my tongue and throughout my mouth.
Riedel explained that the glass was designed to prompt this automatic reflex. The Shiraz glass desposited the cold water right smack in the middle of my tongue, and the Cabernet glass sloshed the water all the way back against the back of my mouth. Riedel explained to us that the shape of the glasses and the heights of the bowls force the drinker to tilt their head back at the right height to change which part of the mouth the wine hits.
I was amazed after the water exercise, and we went on to pour out the water and to pour pinot noir into each glass, taste the wine and then repeat with the syrah and the cabernet sauvignon. We were instructed to raise the glasses to our nose and inhale and then take a sip. After each inhale and each sip of each wine in each glass, Riedel asked us to make a mental note. And he discussed the results with us. The pinot noir glass’ shape really highlighted the fruitiness of the pinot noir and the berry and floral aromas. The wine tasted more salty, acidic or more tannic, or smelled drier and spicier in the Shiraz and Cabernet glasses.
Similar differences were noted as we tasted syrah in each of the glasses and then cabernet.
“Most consumers drink wine, particularly red wine, out of one glass,” Riedel said. “We believe that for red wine, there are three unique shapes that you should use.”
At this point, everyone in the audience was thoroughly convinced. The glass and its shape really does make a difference.
“So the next time a friend recommends a bottle of wine to you and you try it at home and don’t like it, is it the wine? Or is it the glass?” We all nodded in agreement.
But what of that weird-shaped glass sitting on the very end? In a flair for the dramatic, Riedel asked assistants to pass out chilled bottles of Coca Cola to each of us and then told us the story of the company developing a glass meant to serve Coke and the first time he demonstrated the glass to the company’s executives. We were asked to take a sip of Coke from the bottle, pour it into a plastic cup and do the same, and then pour it into the Riedel Coke glass and do the same.
On the tongue, the Coke out of the bottle produced long-lived and large bubbles and tasted like we expected Coke to taste. Out of the plastic cup, the bubbles were much more fine and short lived, and the Coke tasted flat and not as sweet. In the Riedel Coke glass, the soft drink had the same large long-lived bubbles on the tongue and tasted sweet just like it had out of the bottle. He then asked us to smell the coke in the plastic cup and to smell it from the Riedel Coke glass. Out of the plastic cup, all we could smell was the sweet aroma typical of Coke. In the Riedel glass, it actually smelled like orange blossoms.
“Amazing,” I whispered to myself. I took a picture of the glasses sitting before me and sent it to my spouse along with the following message: “Honey, I think we need to get more wine glasses.”
Victor Panichkul is food, wine and beer columnist for the Statesman Journal. Reach him at (503) 399-6704, Vpanichkul@StatesmanJournal.com, follow at Facebook.com/WillametteValleyFoodWine and on Twitter @TasteofOregon.
Where to buy
Riedel Crystal is sold at Macy’s, but you also can purchase it online at riedelusa.net.