(Article by Adam Morgansterntaken taken from Forbes)
As any wine lover knows, head into any home furnishings store and you’ll be confronted by a dizzying assortment of wine glasses. Not only ones for each varietal — Pinot Noir, Cabernet, Chardonnay — but also Old World vs. New World choices. Are all these different glasses really necessary? I spoke with Maximilian Riedel, the 11th generation CEO of the Austrian Riedel wine glass-making family to find out his thoughts.
I’ve heard all the arguments, but now that I’m actually with a member of the family — what’s the right way to pronounce Riedel?
So since we are Austrian, we speak German. We would say REE (rhymes with “we”) DEL. We’d appreciate it if people say that in America too. We don’t want to hear “Rydell,” because that’s the high school from ‘Grease,’ and we have no relationship with that.
The average wine drinker knows there’s a white wine glass and a red wine glass. Why do they need to get more specific than that?
Because people don’t know the impact of a wine glass. It’s not that we can perform miracles, we cannot turn a mediocre wine into a first growth, but we can get everything out of the wine, like a loudspeaker, good and bad that it has to offer.
It’s like a closet full of shoes. You have at least a pair for running and a pair for going to work. You could try going to work with your sports shoe, but it would be wrong because of etiquette. But you would never go running in your work shoes.
So if I drink a Pinot Noir out of the wrong glass, what specifically am I missing?
Look up Pinot Noir and here is what you will find: Red wine grape, thin skin, ruby red color. Thin skins means soft tannins, and the grape itself has unbalanced acidity — that’s what our glass will take care of. We will balance the acidity for you, which means we will focus on the fruit first and the wine will go to the tip of your tongue first.
You also make a number of different Pinot Noir Glasses.
It’s because we started with the old world Pinot Noir, which is in Europe, and then all these French producers started making wine in Oregon. They complained to us, and said the glasses just don’t work there. So we came out with the New World Pinot glass. And what is the difference between old world and new world? Minerality. Everyone else would say fruit, or alcohol, or climate — I say minerality.
Then we had a similar experience with New Zealand producers, who said the glasses don’t work for them. So we did a workshop there and created a third glass, because once again, the minerality of New Zealand Pinot Noir is so different than old world and new world.
With so many different glasses, where should someone start with their collection?
Traditionally, there is the suite of glasses — you have a Champagne flute, a smaller white wine glass, a bigger red wine glass and then anything for water — that’s what your grandparents would have. What I would do instead, is tell retailers to ask their customers, what is their favorite grape? Most people might say Cabernet, and then they could say perfect, I have a Cabernet glass right here. What does your spouse drink?
Now you have the two glasses that should start your collection. That’s the first step. Then you venture off and fall in love with Pinot Noir, but the Pinot never tastes as good when it’s in the Cabernet glass, and that’s the eye-opening experience. You wouldn’t go to a golf course with just one club. It’s the same in the game of wine.
Restaurants have stepped away from Champagne flutes in the past few years, now opting for larger white-wine style glasses.
In the past years, I was appointed by two of the most famous Champagne houses to create a glass for them. All of a sudden we have sparkling wines from around the world, which can compete easily with Champagne, so they realized that Champagne must taste superior — and in flutes Champagne cannot taste superior.
When you put your nose in there, anybody, any consumer will tell you it’s Champagne because the flute only promotes the yeast, and that’s what we all think Champagne smells like. Because it’s captured in this very tight corsage, and it cannot show what it has to offer. And the taste is always the same because the bubbles from a flute go to the front of your palate.
My grandfather always drank his Champagnes out of our biggest glasses. So, over time, I gained knowledge. I met a lot of Champagne producers at tastings. They started to move away from flutes into Riesling glasses, and I took everything I learned and came up with our Champagne Wine glass. I used ‘Champagne Wine’ because many people still do not know that Champagne is a wine.
Should restaurants play a role in explaining the glasses along with the wine?
I need to tell you my personal impression on sommeliers. Dammit, they should wake up. Everybody forgets that the basis of the restaurant business is not only the quality of food and the length of your wine list — it’s entertainment. Sommeliers can add so much more to the experience than just selecting the wine. The way they open it, the way it’s decanted and served. Leave an impression on us. It’s an entertainment business.
Which changes in the wine world have the most impact on how you are designing your new glasses?
The climate, the growing seasons, irrigation and then, obviously, alcohol. Alcohol is like fat in food. It is a flavor enhancer and people are making fatter, heavier more powerful wines. The result is that our generation will not get to taste these wines at their best, because the wines are richer and the aging is endless. When you think about Napa Valley, for example, 20 years ago we were talking about 12-13% alcohol, now we have 15-16%. You have to go to bigger glasses.