Thursday, January 06, 2011

On Wine Glasses

I have a lot of wine glasses, but they are mismatched, as I have broken many over the years. I have three Ravenscroft glasses, for example, that I use for Cabernet Franc and Syrah. I had four but I broke one. I replaced it one day before hosting a dinner in which I knew that an old Bordeaux would be served, but I have since broken another one. I had two of those enormous Riedel Burgundy glasses - BrooklynLady and I were given them as a gift for our wedding. I broke one while cleaning it, as the stem simply decided that it needed separation from the bowl. Then a friend gave me his two to babysit while he lives out of the country, so now there are three. Things break, such is life. I find myself using basic Schott Zwiesel white wine glasses for all white wine and most Champagne, and for Beaujolais too. I don't often use the few great glasses that I have because they are large and very fragile and I don't have a good track record regarding their safety.

Do the aromas and flavors of wine show differently in different types of wine glasses? This is a question that in and of itself can annoy some people. I can understand the annoyance factor, as this is a topic is too often discussed in a snobby way. By snobby, I mean that the tone used in writing or talking is dismissive and condescending, or can make people feel as though the knowledge required to appreciate differences in glassware is unobtainable. This is a shame because unlike the art of pairing wine with food, which is also too often discussed snobbishly, and in which I would argue that there is no absolute correct answer and in which creativity and personal preferences are key, there is a science to making good wine glasses. Some wine glasses simply are better than others.

I'm not saying that wine cannot be enjoyed unless the proper glass is used - that's obviously rubbish. We all have our stories about a simple white in glass tumblers at a seaside restaurant, and rosé out of paper cups in the park on a sunny day with friends. That is soulful stuff and what I am saying does not preclude loving those experiences. I am saying, however, that certain glasses do bring out the best in a wine, and experiencing this firsthand can be compelling.

The other night three friends and I had dinner and drank several great wines. Clearly this was an occasion to break out the best glasses. One of the wines I served was the utterly excellent 2001 Domaine Fourrier Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Champeaux, $65, Imported by Neal Rosenthal Wine Merchant. Unfortunately I had only three Riedel Sommelier Series Burgundy bowls, so I drank from a Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass - no problem. But one of my friends surprised me by bringing another great Burgundy, the 1998 Claude Dugat Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux St. Jacques, price unknown, Robert Kracher Selections. I wanted to serve these wines together with one of the dishes we ate, so I needed 8 Burgundy glasses and had to use my "daily" Burgundy glasses, the Schott Zwiesel Tritan Burgundy bowls that I bought a while ago, and that so far have resisted breaking regardless of the abuse I regularly subject them to. We had several types of glasses on the table, and an unintended opportunity to compare them with these two great Burgundies.

The Riedel Sommelier Series Burgundy glass (about $100 each) is the insanely large one on the left. The Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass (prince unknown) is in the middle and the Schott Zwiesel Tritan glass ($10) is on the right. We didn't take notes or anything, but I can tell you that I absolutely loved the Fourrier wine in my Schott Zwiesel glass, with its beautiful stone floor and graceful dark fruit, and its striking sense of harmony. And then I tried it using one of the Riedel Sommelier Series glasses and it honestly was a different wine, and it was even better. In the larger glass more complex gamy notes emerged, and the wine seemed to be even more layered and complete. I loved the wine, and I'm sure I would love it from any vessel, but it was better out of the Riedel Sommelier Series glass. From the Oregon Pinot Noir glass the wine for some reason showed more alcohol on the nose and on the palate.

Thanks to my mismatched wine glass collection, we were able to repeat this experiment with 2001 Clos Rougeard Saumur-Champigny Les Poyeaux, $45, Louis/Dressner Selections and several different glasses meant for Cabernet-based wines, and again the large Riedel Sommelier Series glass (I have only one) brought out the very best in the wine (which is fantastic, in any glass).

So what does this all mean? For me, it means that I will start using my best glasses on a daily basis with any wine, including and especially my daily $15 wines. They help to bring out the best in a wine - why shouldn't I use them? If they break, they break. Drinking wine from another glass when I have these superior glasses just sitting there is akin to purposely forgoing part of a great experience. And I might even spring for two of those expensive but supposedly phenomenal Riedel Sommelier Series Champagne glasses, although I would bet the under on my keeping them intact for at least 6 months.

18 comments:

WineEveryday said...

interesting take on a vertical, or would it be a horizontal tasting.... the glasses I mean. I am going to try this style of tasting!

We use our Riedel's every day. Thankfully we've only broken 2. Have about 2 dozen .. collected over the years. My problem is keeping the water spots off.

Cheers!
Eileen

TWG said...

What about the Zalto wine glasses?

On breakage the only glasses I've had major problems with are the Riedel Chardonnay Vinum series, I'm down to 7 left out of 12. Thinking of the Ravenscroft Invisible line as replacements.

Cliff said...

The Oregon glass magnifies the perception of alcohol because of the narrow top. Have you ever tried a light Riesling in a glass like that?

RE water spots: get some good, old-fashioned cloth diapers and dry right away after washing. I've never found a better way to dry crystal.

Sediment said...

Eschew the Paris goblet, that hideous little tennis ball of a glass condemned by George Reidel himself as “the enemy of wine”. A glass too thick and too small to enhance the flavour, too shallow and open to enhance the bouquet, and too mimsy to suggest generosity. Check out our posting on the subject at http://tinyurl.com/2bph4eo

IWA said...

It's amazing how much a difference the stemware makes. I wasn't a believer until I went to a tasting with Max Riedel where we poured one wine and tried it in 5 different styles of glasses... very eye-opening.

You've got some great options there in the Riedel and the Tritan. Great post.

Cliff - Thanks for the tip on the cloth diapers... I'm going to try that one

-Ed

rhit said...

"They help to bring out the best in a wine - why shouldn't I use them? "

I totally agree and started using my best glasses more after a similar realization. Smoke 'em if you got 'em, right?

Steve said...

Even worse is the trend of serving wine in a little juice glass. I've seen this is some otherwise very good restaurants, especially in Brooklyn. Some of these places have decent lists, charge $11 or $12 a glass, then serve it to you in something that should be used for OJ in a diner.

2GrandCru said...

I use my best Burgundy glass on every red Burgundy, including Beaujolais.

By the way, I have a handy comeback for any allegations of pretentiousness regarding wine glasses and wine/food pairings. I simply ask my accusers how much they enjoy drinking a glass of milk immediately after brushing their teeth with a mint-flavored Colgate.

Anonymous said...

Finally a sensible piece on this. Glasses make a huge difference. Now the question is, if you are to go to a tasting can you bring your own glass?

Anonymous said...

What schott line is it? They make almost all their glasses out of tritan these days. Would love the Riedel but that is one to far for me.

Tag: Wine said...

great discussion of glasses... a word of caution though on using the riedel burgundy sommelier series on less complex pinots: i tried this before and it actually took away from the enjoyment of straightforward wines.

it's as if the glass physically rips wines into components and layers, which is great for complex wines because the deeper you dig, the more there is to offer. but in most cases with wines that were less balanced and integrated, the glass tended to isolate and amplify awkward components. this was particularly the case with oregon pinots that i enjoyed in other glasses before.

i'm curious to hear if you end up having a similar experience.

Wicker Parker said...

I have Riedel's basic "wine" series Bordeaux and Burgundy glasses. I normally reserve the latter for medium-to-full whites; everything else, even red Burgundy, goes into the Bordeaux glass, based upon my tests between the two. These glasses are equally wide at the rim, btw.

In light of this post I just retested my approach with a 2009 Fiano di Avellino, and while I got more of everything in the Bordeaux glass – more flowers, more fruit, more alcohol, more body – the wine was finer and more delicate in the Burgundy glass, and seemed more stitched together. I had to pay more attention to the wine and got more out of it.

I get why the aromas in particular would seem more forceful, more directed, in the taller and narrower glass. But I don't get why my larger-framed whites (incl. white Burgundies) seem more complete in the shorter, broader glass, but that most other wines (incl. red Burgundies) do not. In any case I'm going to stick to my formula for now. After all, there are only so many tests one can do before madness sets in.

Brooklynguy said...

thanks for all of the comments. And for the diaper tip Cliff. Just when I thought that I might be finished buying diapers...they drag me back in.

And i thought that a wide top like most burgundy bowls enhances the sense of the alcohol, didn't realize that it's the other way around.

Arno said...

Jules Chauvet was one of the 1st, if not the 1st, to talk and explain the impact of the shape of the recipient. This has indeed a huge influence on the aromas, the order they're appearing, the influence on the texture, etc...
I would recommend anyone to read his books: fascinating !

Do Bianchi said...

I wish someone would do a great but inexpensive Nebbiolo glass like the traditional style used for tasting in Langa. Can anyone here point me to one? thx in advance

Henri Vasnier said...

Hypothesis: the Riedel Sommelier Burgundy goldfish bowl brings out the true greatness in great wine but is merciless: it is the Austrian equivalent of what the very expensive French "Les Impitoyables" glasses claim to be, a glass that ruthlessly exposes any flaw from which the wine may suffer. This has been my Minneapolis wine group's conclusion (I personally agree with it but it wasn't my idea originally). Will be interested in whether your experience drinking $15 wines from such a glass replicates our nonscientific opinion.

Goblets and More said...

Not only the size and shape may effect the pleserable exsperience of enjoying a fine ruby wine, but the over all apearance of the glass can actually make a big differance. Also I find that decanting your sweeter wine, brings out the Bouquet and seems to improve the over all flavour as well.

Samuel Beckett said...

Brooklynguy is absolutely right. Wine's true flavor can only be experienced if it is served in the right type of glass.Especially while having white wine, it is very important to have the best white wine glasses. Its true for all other types of wine also.