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Does a Glass Make a Difference?
by
Terry Sullivan

After tasting thousands of wines at winery and vineyard tasting rooms I’ve come to the conclusion that better stemware enhances the tasting experience. Most wineries use ISO wine glasses often with the wineries logo on the side of the glass. The use of this glass levels the playing field. You can easily compare and contrast wines from different wineries if they are using the same stemware. Imagine my surprise when visiting wineries in Italy I tasted wine from finer stemware by Schott, Bormioli, Riedel, and Spiegelau.

The first difference in tasting was noticing the color of the wine. The bowl is larger and the glass is thinner than ISO glasses. You see the wine better. The first smell is different in finer stemware than in ISO stemware. There is more room for your nose to fit in the glass. Finer stemware glasses are designed to take better advantage of a wine’s aroma. Swirling the wine in better stemware allows more air to mix with the wine and provides a better second nose experience. Then comes the taste.

I personally like the feel of thin-bodied glass. Fine wine stemware has different sizes of bowls designed to place the wine in you mouth at different points. They can take advantage of the wine and the taste buds that will pick up the nuisances of the wine. ISO stemware places the wine at the tip of your tongue and keeps your mouth relatively closed. I believe that finer stemware gives one a better opportunity to taste the wine. It will also enhance any wine faults that hopefully will not be present.

Few wineries in the United States use fine stemware for their tasting rooms. However on a spring trip to Oregon, I observed Riedel in 75% of the tasting rooms we visited. Of course I realize that Riedel created a special glass for Oregon Pinot Noir and the tasting rooms were eager to show off their Pinots in a specially designed glass. Many of the tasting rooms sold the Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glasses and they were flying off the shelves. So was this a great marketing plan or do the fine stemware glasses make a difference? All the people in our group agreed that the bouquet of the wine was intense and everyone could easily identify different aromas of the wine. Our party also liked the feel of the glasses and the taste of the wines.

Late spring I was treated once again to the use of fine stemware in several winery tasting rooms in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. One winery used different Riedel stemware for the different wines you taste. They also use an ISO glass. You are encouraged to pour some of the wine from the fine stemware into the ISO glass and then taste the same wine from both glasses and compare. When side by side one can tell a difference in aroma and taste.
Since I like to use fine stemware to taste wines, imagine my disappointment when I first visited wineries in Ohio that used one ounce transparent plastic cups for the wine tasting. These small plastic cups limit your ability to see the true color of the wine. If you attempt to put your nose in the cup you will hit bottom that is if your nose doesn’t over shoot the cup in the first place. Swirling the wine is virtually impossible. These one ounce transparent cups limited two important steps in the tasting experience, the sight and smell of a wine. One winery defended their position by stating that people who come to visit only want to drink not taste their wines. This winery is passing up a golden opportunity to teach visitors how to taste a wine.

First impressions make a difference. When I see fine stemware for tasting wines in a winery tasting room my biased thought is that these wines must be good. On the other hand when I see one-ounce plastic cups my biased impression is, “what are they trying to hide?”. I realize there is an added cost to using finer stemware for wine taste. However, finer stemware enhances the tasting experience. More Americans are drinking wine today and many are more knowledgeable about wine than decades ago. The use of finer stemware may keep today’s wine tasters life long wine tasters.


 
 

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