Monday, October 20, 2008

Shape Matters

Once upon a time I owned six Riedel red Burgundy glasses, the Vinum series. These are the glasses with the rather large bowls and the tapered lip, perfect for nurturing the delicate aromas of Pinot Noir, and designed to deposit the wine at the precise point on the tasters tongue that will result in the optimal flavor experience. Or so says Riedel, anyway.

I like nice wine glasses as much as the next guy. A wine's subtleties really can be better appreciated when drinking from certain glasses. Some of this is simply the size of the glass - good red Burgundy from a 4 oz. orange juice glass would be tragic because the aromas would dissipate into the air. And shape matters too. You can drink Champagne from a flute, for example, and it does indeed look beautiful that way. But drinking Champagne from a white wine glass allows the aromas to be appreciated in a whole different way. A Champagne coupe doesn't do enough to trap the aromas and is probably best used to serve cocktails.

As long as a basic minimum of quality is present, I'm not all that picky about a wine glass. I want it to be big enough so I can pour a few ounces of wine and swirl a bit. And I want a tapered shape to help trap the aromas. I do prefer to drink Champagne and other sparkling wines from a white wine glass. Other than that, I've never been much of a believer in the idea that specific glass shapes are better for specific wines. Seems like alchemy, or like putting lipstick on a pig.

But the other night my lack of faith was put to the test. My pal Adam and his wife brought a bottle of 2002 Domaine Ramonet Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru Clos de la Boudriotte to dinner at my place. But of those six Vinum glasses there are merely two remaining, the rest unlucky victims of various sink collisions, or in one case, a cavalier paper towel drying program. Would I be forced to serve this fine red Burgundy in white wine glasses?

Then I remembered that four years ago while trying to use a wedding-related store credit at Tiffany, I lost my patience in the vase section of the store and in 5 short minutes became the owner of two utterly enormous wine glasses, small bath tubs really. These would be the Sommelier series Pinot Noir glasses. They have a special flared lip to direct the wine to the mid-portion of the tongue. Honestly they cost something like $100 each, and therefore cannot rationally be used or washed, because they surely would shatter. Just touching them results in a gong-like humming. We have used these glasses maybe twice since we purchased them.
So the Ramonet went into two Vinum glasses (Sommelier above left, Vinum above right) and two Sommelier glasses-on-steroids. And you know what? It was a far superior wine from the big Sommelier glasses. At 13.5%, from the Vinum glasses there was unpleasant alcohol heat on the nose. From the Sommelier glasses, just pure earthy mossy dark fruited sumptuousness. And the wine tasted better too from this glass, which is no surprise because so much of flavor is tied to aroma. The difference was such that I probably would not have liked the wine if tasted only from the Vinum glass, but I would happily buy the wine in the Sommelier glass.

So now I will tell you two more things: I will use these glasses exclusively to drink Pinot until they also break, and BrooklynLady so far has followed through on her promise/threat to drink her every liquid from one of these glasses. I might also purchase two of the Sommelier series Chenin Blanc glasses with what's left of my retirement account.


Ken and Theresa Hoggins said...

I also find the glass does matter, particularly for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Less for other grapes.


Anonymous said...

Wow, you have enough left in your retirement account to buy two glasses? All I could afford would be Dixie cups.

Anonymous said...

Not to mention, you can fit a whole bottle and a half of wine in the Sommelier series--if you're into that.

Amy Atwood said...

Just goes to show that what they say about aromas increasing enjoyment is true. The more you can smell, the more you enjoy.

Jason A said...

I had a similar epiphany at a wine tasting at Crush. The glasses provided at the tasting were very large and the effect and advantage of the larger glasses favored all of the wines served. Bouquet opened up substantially over what is usually experienced at your typical tasting and what I usually enjoy at home. I too have a couple of those monster glasses and they only get brought out a couple of times a year - I think it's time to change that.

Peter Liem said...

I am also a huge fan of the Riedel Sommelier series, and I think that the difference between the Sommelier burgundy glass and the Vinum one is enormous. I actually use the Sommeliers on a regular basis, and I wouldn't think of opening a truly great bottle of Burgundy or Barolo/Barbaresco without using that glass.

peter said...

I have two each of those, the cabs, and the chards, and use them pretty often- though for everyday use I prefer the Ravenscroft pinot glasses. I liken the experience to listening to music on the best possible stereo system.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid this may sound like sour grapes--no pun intended--but I don't really mean it that way. Peter Liem recently wrote about how the same wine tasted differently in two different environments. So, to get the most out of a wine we perhaps need to consider glassware + atmosphere + accompanying food + age and condition of the wine + phases of the moon....

Becomes a bit of a crapshoot, it seems, and starts to remind me of the caricatures of fussy wine connoisseurs. I just want a wine that tastes good, without having to worry too much about all of those variables.

Brooklynguy said...

thanks for all of these comments. i like your analogy peter - the stereo system. not only for the obvious reasons, but also because there are times and specific recordings that might, depending on the context, sound best on a cranky old phonograph. like a greek white wine from a mug in a cafe by the sea.

anon - i think your point is a good one, if you mean that there is something attractive about not thinking/caring about all of these details. i share that feeling regarding bicycles, ceramic plates and bowls, bread, and almost every other thing. there are others who care deeply about the details involved in pursuing the highest levels of appreciation of these things. good for them, not for me.

i think that your (and the majority of Americans') enjoyment of wine is your own and you should do it exactly how you want to. that doesn't mean, though, that those of us who obsess over the details, trying to heighten our own understanding and appreciation of wine are just being fussy connoisseurs. that sounds like you're saying something is wrong with pursuing knowledge.

i'm glad you wrote this comment, and i respect your feeling (if it is your feeling) that wine enjoyment should be simpler than we are making it. go out and enjoy it your way and be happy!

but i'm sure you don't mean to say that because we enjoy these details and take pleasure in this search for erudite knowledge, that we are fussy or elitist or in some way, wrong for doing so. we;re certainly not in any way trying to influence how you derive pleasure from wine.

anyway, thanks for the comment. and don't worry about using your name next time - no one here is going to yell at you.

RougeAndBlanc said...

I can adhere to Peter's testimony on Ravenscroft pinot glass. One time we use various glasses to sample 2 aged Bordeauxs and the Ravenscroft glass provided the best nose.

One down side is that Ravenscroft glass is hard to find these days.