Confession time: we have always been skeptical of the idea that a wine’s taste can be influenced by the glass that you drink it from. I mean, if you know us personally, you have probably imbibed wine from a paper cup with us at some point or another. While we love good stemware because it makes us feel posh, we’re not going to turn our noses up at a tumbler.
So we were a tough crowd when Tarryn from the Reciprocal Wine Company, Riedel Glassware’s official supplier in South Africa, proposed demonstrating just how much difference the right (or wrong) glass can make to both the aroma and taste of a wine.
Armed with her well-travelled box of Riedel goodies, Tarryn met us early one evening at the elegant Vineyard Hotel in Newlands (could we get a more appropriate-named venue for the occasion?). To start, she poured some Chardonnay into two different glasses – one being the varietal-specific Chardonnay glass which had a generous bowl and wide rim, the other a more conventionally-shaped wine glass which was narrow and tapered at the top.
“It’s all about how the molecules travel up the glass,” Tarryn explained. “A wooded Chardonnay has a spectrum of delicate aromas that you miss in the narrow glass. A wider surface area for the wine allows these aromas to reach your nose more gently.”
And so we sniffed, and so we found her to be correct. We picked up a lot more subtle fruit and floral notes in the wider glass, while the aroma was more concentrated and sharper in the narrow glass.
“The Chardonnay glass is designed so that you can experience the luxury of the fuller wine. The wide rim forces your tongue to rise up to meet the glass, meaning the wine is distributed broadly on the palate, thereafter dripping down the sides of the mouth. The shape 100% dictates where the wine is going.”
This clearly wasn’t Tarryn’ s first rodeo, because we found her to be spot on – as we sipped on the Chardonnay with rapt concentration, we could totally see (or rather, taste) what she was getting at. Somehow the wine tasted richer and riper in the Chardonnay glass, followed by that irresistible tingling you get in your inner cheeks when a wine has fresh acidity.
Next up were the red wine glasses. Tarryn poured some light, berry-coloured Mr P Pinot Noir into two glasses – one with a wide bowl similar to the Chardonnay glass but a little bigger, the other narrower and taller.
“When it comes to reds, it’s mainly about tannin management,” explained Tarryn. “For varietals like Pinot Noir that tend to be light in tannins, again, a wide rim distributes the wine broadly towards the front of your palate. The wide bowl also plays a role in managing the higher acidity which is characteristic of Pinot Noir. On the other hand, a narrower glass sends the tannins straight to the back of the palate – this is more suitable for bolder, tannic grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, where you don’t want the complexity of a wine to be overwhelmed by tannins.”
Blow me down, she was right again. The Pinot felt so much more delicate and subtly complex, drunk from the glass designed for it. It tasted blander and dare we say a bit clumsy in the “wrong” glass.
In all honesty, we were impressed. Now we had been won over, Tarryn explained just how much research and testing (uh, sign us up Riedel?!) has gone into the development of these varietal-specific glasses. The design for each glass is based on the exceptional characteristics of each grape variety, which determines shape, size and rim diameter of the bowl. Ultimately, the end goal is to allow you to experience an individual wine, exactly as the winemaker intended.
Like a good wine is a harmonious balance between science and art, we found the Grape Varietal Specific Riedel glasses to be as beautiful as they are functional. If you’re keen to get your hands on some of these babies and experience the difference for yourself, they’re available at www.reciprocal.co.za.
Words and (most of the) images: Kristen Duff