Riedel Wine Tasting - Clever Marketing or Do the Glasses Make a Difference?
Riedel has been in the glass business for centuries. Recently they are known for producing wine glasses and creating variety specific wine glasses. Does drinking an oaked Chardonnay from a variety specific glass make a difference in the way the Chardonnay expresses itself? Some believe it doesn’t, that the Riedel company is just using clever marketing. Others can tell a difference in a wine’s aroma and taste. At the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association Conference in Las Vegas, we had an opportunity to taste four wines in variety specific Riedel glasses.
The tasting was set up in a conference room. Over a placemat, four glasses already had wine in them. The stemware was from Riedel’s Vinum XL series and included a Riesling Grand Cru glass, a Chardonnay glass, a Pinot Noir glass and a Cabernet Sauvignon glass. The Vinum XL series stemware are machine-blown. Thomas Lamond from Riedel presented the wine tasting session. Tommy is energetic, personable and a great company spokesperson. He guided the audience through the tasting always comparing the wine in the variety specific Riedel glass with the same wine in a joker glass. The Cabernet Sauvignon was not poured in my fourth glass. It was poured later from a Riedel decanter.
For white wines we used the standard Venetian and Palazzo wine glass as the joker glass. We first tasted the Riesling Grand Cru from the Riesling Vinum XL glass. The wine had a light yellow color. One noticed the floral and mineral notes on the aroma. There were peaches and a hint of roses and mineral on the taste. The finish was crisp and fruity. We were instructed to pour the wine into the joker glass and note the differences. The first difference was a slight greenish hue to the color. Although the aroma and taste were not as intense as in the Riedel glass, one could still pick up the floral aroma and peach taste. The mineral hints were more difficult to find. The Montrachet was tasted in the Vinum XL Chardonnay glass. It was a yellow gold color that offered pear, oak and caramel on the aroma and pear, banana and caramel on the taste. The finish was crisp and fruity and there was a faint hint of tannins. When placed in the joker glass, the wine loses its gold hue and appears yellow. The wine seemed to have lost some of the fruitiness on the aroma and taste but retained the caramel.
Thomas spoke of the rim diameter of the two white wine Riedel glasses. Since Riesling has good acid the diameter of the Riesling glass is smaller than the diameter of the Chardonnay glass. Chardonnay does not have the acidity that Riesling has. The wider diameter glass places the Chardonnay on the tongue closer to the acid receptors. Glass diameters have some control over where the wine is placed on the tongue.
We tasted the Pinot Noir in the Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass. The wine was ruby with a clear rim. Tommy interjected, “The glass allows the wine to sing to you.” Both the aroma and taste captured red berry fruit and earthiness. Mild tannins greeted the fruity finish. Rather than using the same joker glass as for the white wines, Tommy suggested that we use the Riedel Chardonnay glass as the joker glass for the red wines. He wanted to demonstrate that a different varietal glass would also affect how a wine expresses itself. Both the aroma and taste lacked fruit intensity. A similar discovery was made with the Cabernet Sauvignon. In the Cabernet Sauvignon Riedel glass there was more expression of the fruit on the aroma and taste. Whereas in the Chardonnay glass, the aroma and taste had a reduced intensity. Thomas demonstrated the pouring of some of our Cabernet Sauvignon from a Riedel decanter.
Thomas did lead the group through the wine tasting. He answered questions along the way, however the tasting comments were made by Tommy. Did this lead us into making conclusions that he intended? Probably it did lead us to make favorable conclusions for the correct varietal Riedel stemware. Rather than a monologue during the tasting a dialogue would be more useful, however with the time constraint it would prove challenging. The tasting can be replicated at home though. The participants kept the set of four Riedel Vinum XL glasses. They can experiment at home with a joker glass and trying a variety of wine in glasses not meant for that variety.
After tasting wines at nearly 1,000 tasting room around the world, I believe that fine stemware does enhance how the wine expresses itself, especially when compared to ISO stemware or the uncommon small plastic cups used in doctors’ offices to collect specimens. Varietal specific glasses needs further research, something that can easily be done at home.