I would have laid odds that this whole exercise was silly. How could the shape of a glass affect the taste of its contents?
At the Toronto Sheraton Hotel‘s Social Hour, I watch, with a certain degree of cynicism, as Stewart Risto of Riedel, The Wine Glass Company, begins to take us through a tasting of three red wines from California: a Pinot Noir, a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon.
Riedel makes 236 different shaped glassware. Surely this is simply an exercise in marketing?
First, we pour equal small quantities of the Pinot into three different wine glasses, each designated for these specific three wines. So in two cases, the wine is in the wrong glass.
We nose the wines first. To my amazement, the rich cherry aroma that was distinct in the Pinot glass, almost completely disappears in the large Cab Sauvignon glass. Well, I think to myself, it is, after all, a larger glass – 5 ounces larger. But then we taste the wine.
In its namesake glass, the Pinot’s abundant flavour profile is evident. I’m not a wine expert but even my untutored palate finds cherries, herbs, and even a slight lemony flavour as the wine moves around my taste buds. And herein lies the key, explains Risto.
The Pinot glass has a slight lip on it, so the wine is forced to the front of the tongue first. Even in the smaller Syrah glass, the flavours are not the same. I’m astounded!
Leanne Muir, the chef at BnB Restaurant at the Sheraton Centre, has paired this wine with lamb lollipops and again, as I taste the wine in each glass, I find that the Pinot’s distinctive flavour brings out the best in the meat when I use the Pinot glass, though the Syrah glass isn’t a bad match.
When we move to the Syrah tasting, I’m surprised to find it paired with seared peppercorn tuna with mango chili salsa. These are strong flavours but the peppery Syrah is more than equal to the task. It’s a beautiful match and I have to admit, the right glass seems to bring the flavours together more effectively. In the largest glass, the aromas get lost again.
When we get to the Cabernet Sauvignon, the differences really come to the fore. In the big 33-ounce glass I find the bold aromas of berries and even cloves. The robust flavour pairs perfectly with skewers of bacon-wrapped beef tenderloin, the fruity wine bringing out the best of the smoky bacon. On the plate too, I find two tiny, teardrop-shaped, Peruvian sweet peppers, smaller than grape tomatoes and bursting with flavour. It’s a new taste sensation.
The Syrah glass doesn’t fare too badly with the beef, but the Pinot glass is patently all wrong. As I said, before this exercise I would have disdained the idea that the glass could be significant. But it explains why I have tasted a wine in a restaurant, then bought the same wine, only to be disappointed.
Risto recognizes that most of us are not going to buy many different sets of wine glasses. Even if our cabinets could bear the load, our wallets couldn’t. He suggests that the Syrah glass is adequate for 80 percent of reds, but not for Cab Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. Riedel offers a free App (Riedel wine glass guide) which will help you decide which glass shape works best for your wine.
Still skeptical? Coke isn’t. Coca Cola approached Riedel to design a glass for them, and the result was a glass not unlike the original coke bottle in shape. But to the horror of Coke executives, the glass was so effective that it enabled tasters to identify 17 of the 21 secret ingredients in Coke. The glass has yet to be released.
Riedel already makes whiskey, brandy and even water glasses. Georg Riedel, the 10th generation of the family which has been making glassware since 1678, wants to expand their horizons to coffee, beer and more. Watch for future developments.