What a difference a glass makes: Take your wine-tasting to the next level

You’ve seen the classy black and red Riedel cartons at kitchenware retail. They have an elite aura and great appeal as gifts. But do you know the story behind them? The Riedel name and family has been synonymous with glassware for over 250 years and 11 generations.  But it wasn’t until the 1960’s that the company began to focus in earnest on fine wine glasses.  A handmade Sommeliers series was launched in 1973, introducing for the first time a revolutionary concept: that glass size and shape directly affects the wine inside.

The current generation, Georg Riedel, took the idea further by developing “varietal-specific” glasses to enhance individual wine varietals. Today, Riedels’ Vinum glasses are machine-made, making varietal-specific tasting more affordable and accessible to wine lovers everywhere.

Riedel Tasting @Trione Vineyards & Winery

I participated in a Riedel seminar recently at Trione Winery in Geyserville, CA.  Trione produces fine wines from the Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley of northern Sonoma county. The Trione portfolio is perfect for the Riedel tasting experience. Each of vintner Scot Covingtons’ wines is true to it’s varietal character while showing consistent quality and structure. Scot makes a Trione Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet, matching the 4-glass Vinum set.

Tasting Presentation

Each place at the tasting table was set with 4 wine glasses, a water glass and a plastic “Joker” glass.  The 4 glasses comprise Riedel’s Vinum set:

  • Bordeaux/Cabernet
  • Burgundy/Pinot Noir
  • Sauvignon Blanc/Dessert Wine
  • Montrachet/Chardonnay

Through a series of tasting wines matched and mis-matched to their glasses, and in plastic (ick), the group of tasters became converts to the science of varietal glassware.

Wine Delivery System

Riedel speaks of a glass as a complete wine delivery system. The Chardonnay glass delivered the pure fruit, refreshing acidity, light oak, and warm finish of the Trione Russian River Valley Chardonnay.  The wide rim and deep bowl harmonizes these four strong characteristics into a balanced whole, with no one overpowering the others.  As a test, we poured some Chardonnay from its glass into a narrow Sauvignon Blanc glass.  The oak had no room to breathe, and the taste was completely off. Same wine, completely different taste experience. And of course, when we poured Chardonnay into the Joker glass, there was virtually no aroma, and no sense of oak in the mouth.

We went through a similar ritual with the Trione Sauvignon Blanc. The Riedel glass delivered crisp fruit and yeast directly to the taste receptors from a narrow rim, narrower bowl, tall-stemmed glass (keeping the heat of the hand away from the wine).  In contrast, the Pinot Noir glass has a wide bowl with a narrower rim, bringing the fruit quickly to the top, as in “fruit forward”.  Pinot Noir in the Sauvignon Blanc glass was a real disaster. The narrow delivery system passed the wine straight through to the back of the palette where the bitter receptors are. Hard to believe it was the same wine.

We also had a lesson in decanting and cleaning of wine glasses.  Riedel recommends using no soap, rinsing wine glasses in very hot water and drying with a non-linty towel (microfiber works well). Towels can be boiled in hot water or washed without detergent to keep fragrances away from contact with the porous glass.

Find yourself a Riedel Seminar

Varietal glassware completely changed my tasting experience and awareness. I highly recommend the Riedel Seminar, and it’s also a great way to start your collection of varietal glasses. Each Riedel tasting includes the 4-glass Vinum set. To find a Riedel seminar near you, do a google search.

Better yet, come to Barrel Tasting Weekend on Sonoma’s Wine Road. Trione Winery and over 100 other wineries open their cellars and barrels for 2 weekends in March. The March 5th Barrel Tasting weekend pass is available with a Riedel seminar (and glasses). Tickets here.

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