Riedel: A glass of any other shape

My body has filtered its fair share of wine during the past decade, but it was only a few weeks ago at The Bookworm that I finally attended a Riedel tasting. Riedel makes expensive machine- and hand-made crystal wine glasses in dozens of shapes. The glass for Merlot is different than the glass for Bordeaux, and so on. The idea is that the shape and volume of the glass determines how wine is aerated and where it falls on the tongue, and thus significantly influences how we smell and taste it.

A dozen of us began with a Chardonnay served, as you might guess, in a Riedel Chardonnay glass. A few sniffs and sips later, we poured the wine into one of those small glasses commonly used by restaurants and bars. The effect was striking. The bouquet seemed much weaker and the taste sour, as the smaller glass’ shape directed the wine away from the tip of our tongues, where our sense of sweetness lies. But what if rather than that obviously sub-par small glass we had used a different Riedel one? After trying the Sauvignon Blanc in its special vessel, we did just that, pouring the wine into the now-empty Chardonnay glass. The effect on the bouquet and taste was still evident, though less pronounced. We rounded out our testing with a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon.

1I asked if budget-minded souls could get these results by using a cheap glass with a shape similar to that of the Riedel. The answer was that crystal: 1) makes it easier to check wine clarity and; 2) allows for more aeration, as under a microscope it is rougher than glass. What can I say? No one had a microscope handy. In the end, the tasting was both an education of the senses and sheer marketing genius, for we had plunked down RMB250 each for what was partly a sales pitch. While Riedel is nice, I’m sticking for now with the RMB20 wine glasses I bought at the former Riverside Cafe — they are cheap and big, and since my friends tend to break stuff after a few bottles of wine, I’d hate to have that rough crystal scratching my linoleum floor. For those who do wish to indulge, Riedel is distributed exclusively in China by ASC.

(A version of  this post originally appeared on October 3, 2006 on www.beijingboyce.com.)

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