I have a weakness for gadgets and gimmicks, especially if they’re wine-related. I’ve also always aspired to own a set of different glasses for every type of wine. Riedel, the Austrian manufacturer is perhaps the best known producer of grape-specific glasses, but given their price, I’ve always been sceptical about whether they’d make enough of a difference to justify the cost.

A recent ‘glass tasting’ organised by the Wine Society was a great opportunity to find out. Co-hosted by a representative from Riedel UK, it was of course a sales opportunity as much as anything else, but also a chance to test out the Riedel myth with some great wines.

The Riedel vinum range includes 28 different shapes of glass, all made of lead crystal and machine blown. The intended content of a glass determines its shape, taking into account the different constituents and flavours of different wines. The aim is to enhance key aromas and flavours, channeling the liquid into different regions of the mouth, whilst also damping down other flavours, such as oak, which tend to dominate.

The tasting included a mixture of old and new world wines and my notes are below, along with pictures of the glasses. These perhaps don’t do justice to the differences in shape and size, but illustrate the general idea. We were encouraged to transfer wines between the specific glass, others in the range, and an ISO tasting glass as a ‘joker.’

(As an aside, it was interesting to note the criticism of the traditional ISO tasting glass by both Riedel and Wine Society representatives. Whilst the shape is not ideal, the rolled rim, designed to maximise the strength of the glass, disrupts the flow of the wine and hence the accuracy of the taste. The Wine Society are apparently moving towards using Spiegelau glasses at their tastings – a company owned by Riedel.)

The Sauvignon Glass
A small bowl to hold the delicate nose of Sauvignon Blanc, and a narrow aperture to funnel the wine down the centre of the mouth, minimising the detection of acid by receptors on the side of the tongue.

Riedel Vinum Sauvignon Glass

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc, 2008, Marlborough (£12.95) is produced by Ivan Sutherland and James Healy, who were previously growers for Cloudy Bay. The grapes come from 30 year old vines, giving the wine a great finesse and purity of fruit. With notes of citrus and tropical fruit, with a tempered minerality, this was a lovely, well-balanced wine. (17/20)

In the Montrachet glass, described below, the fruity aromas of the wine were completely lost because of the large aperture, whilst it became unpleasantly acidic in the ISO tasting glass.

The Montrachet Glass
One of two glasses designed for serving Chardonnay, this has a much bigger bowl and a wider aperture, which funnels wine to all areas of the mouth in order to demonstrate its complexity.

Riedel Vinum Montrachet Glass

Catena Chardonnay, 2008, Argentina (£9.95) is a blend of three different Chardonnay harvests, all grown at different altitudes to impart different flavours. 100% barrel fermented, and allowed to undergo a malolactic fermentation, the wine is then aged on its lees for nine months, 40% in new French oak. In the Montrachet glass, this was a surprisingly fresh wine, with notes of tropical fruit and apple and a suprising minerality. (15/20)

Interestingly, in the Sauvignon glass, all the freshness and fruit was lost at the expense of oak, whilst the wine had very little nose. There was more aroma in the empty Montrachet glass!

The Burgundy Glass
A fairly bulbous glass, with steep sides tapering to a narrow aperture to concentrate the aromas, and also to funnel the wine down the centre of the mouth again, to reduce the acidity. A glass very specific to Pinot Noir. (Riedel apparently suggest drinking Pinot Noir dominated champagne from this one, so we’ll have to give that a go.)

Riedel Vinum Burgundy Glass

WS Exhibition St Aubin Rouge, 2005, Domaine Henri Prudhon (£17.00) Produced from Premier Cru vineyards that face south-east and get the morning sun. The wine is barrel fermented and undergoes a natural malolactic fermentation. Lots of red fruit on the nose, but personally I found the palate a bit of a let down. In the ISO glass the tannins were much to strong. (13/20)

The Bordeaux Glass
A tall glass, considerably bigger than the others, to draw out the aromas of a big and heavy wine. The glass also attempts to control the tannins in Bordeaux to allow the fruit flavours to shine.

Riedel Vinum Bordeaux Glass

Klein Constantia Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006, South Africa (£13.95) is produced from grapes grown on north facing slopes in the oldest vineyard in South Africa. The wine was rich and heavy in a new world style, but surprisingly fresh. Notes of black fruits, as well as dark chocolate. This freshness was lost at the expense of tannins and ‘scorched earth’ in the Pinot glass. (14.5/20)

So… we were really surprised at just how much of a difference having the ‘right’ glass makes. Thinking about the anatomy of the tongue in terms of taste receptors though, it certainly does make sense to channel the wine to bring out the best in it. It should be noted though that Riedel dominate the market for grape-specific glasses, they are by no means the only company producing them and others reckon the range produced by Chef and Sommelier is superior. We even noticed recently that a certain Swedish homeware store has produced its own range…

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