We arrived late, having been delayed by a traffic accident two miles or so in front of us on I-90, en route to the Mirabeau Park hotel in Spokane to attend a wine glass tasting seminar. As so often happens to late arrivals in church, we were ushered to the nearly empty table in the front row.
Nearly one hundred people were assembled in a small conference room at the Mirabeau to listen to the maestro, Georg J. Riedel, excite and delight us with his story about the physics involved in the designs of Riedel’s glasses, and why it is that the Riedel glass company refers to their wine glasses as Grape Varietal Specific.
This was an assemblage of people from the restaurant trade who were invited to attend the seminar to learn about and taste from a new line of glasses, Riedel Restaurant XL stemware. We were guests because we’d been helpful selling Riedel glasses in years past.
Tables were arranged classroom style with all attendees facing forward. At each place setting sat three glasses: Riedel XL Pinot Noir on the left, XL Hermitage (aka Syrah) in the center & XL Cabernet on the right. Behind each glass was a plastic cup of red wine, and between each glass and the wine was a square of confection: white chocolate behind the Pinot Noir glass, a lighter, cayenne-spiked chocolate behind the Syrah glass, and a dark chocolate behind the Cabernet glass. Each place setting also had a bottle of water and an empty plastic cup.
We had all been informed prior to our signing up to attend the seminar that the glasses from which we were to drink would be ours to take home, a nice gesture from the Riedel glass company.
I could not, in this short article, begin to do justice to the presentation; suffice it to say that there really is a Pied Piper alive and well meandering thru the wine-drinking world and luring the crowds to follow him. And follow him we did. We drank cold water from all three of the glasses to learn how water entered our mouths differently from all three of the glasses because of the shape of the bowls of each glass. We heard the explanation of why that matters when drinking wines; we were amazed and delighted.
Following the water test, we were directed to pour equal amounts of the Pinot Noir, into each of the three glasses and to taste the wine – first, from the Pinot glass, then the Hermitage glass, and last, the Cabernet glass. The difference was notable. Wine sipped from the Pinot Noir glass stood head and shoulders above the wine from the other two glasses, even though we knew, as Georg smilingly informed us, it was the same exact wine. “You are sure of that because you poured it yourselves,” he said.
Of course, there’s always opinion in these instances, but in my opinion, the Pinot Noir from the Pinot Noir glass had intense aromas of cherries. As the wine writers often say, the wine had a wonderful nose. Nothing was wrong with the taste of the wine in the other two glasses except that the aromas were missing in the Syrah glass and faint in the Cabernet glass. Aromas play a critical role in flavor profiles of the foods we eat and in the beverages we drink. The same was true of the other two wines – the Mollydooker Syrah from Australia and the Sinclair Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla. Both wines had wonderful aromatic qualities when tasted from the designated glasses.
Riedel glasses have been developed to enhance the tastebuds’ perception of the wine. The lip of the glass, the width of the mouth and shape of the bowl are designed to deliver the wine to the mouth and tongue in different ways according to the wine being tasted. Riedel says the shapes direct the wine to different parts of the mouth, emphasizing the best characteristics of the wine. A high acid red with low tannins such as Pinot Noir should touch the tongue differently from a lower acid, high tannin wine such as a big bold Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux blend.
I confess to having been a fan of the Riedel wine glasses prior to this seminar, but that was partially because I liked the way the glasses looked before I’d ever tasted a wine from one. After we bought our first Riedel glasses back in 1995, we conducted our own experiments in our home with friends and family, and were a bit surprised and pleased with results in these simple tests. Aromas in the wines did seem to be more intense when we were sniffing wines in the Riedel glasses.
This seminar with Georg took things to an entirely different level as he tossed around words like “techno-senses.” I’ll not attempt to explain that here, as I’d just mess up the meaning, but I did come away a believer. Drink a wine at our home now and you’ll see that we’re using grape varietal specific Riedel stems.