Half Full, Half Empty, or the Wrong Glass Altogether?

The Colorado Statesman

I never knew that the right glass could make all the difference in my experience with wine, but I have recently learned differently. Having been to several wine festivals in the last year or so, I had seen these little seminars setting up with glasses of varying shapes and sizes and eventually red and white wines poured carefully into said glasses before the seminar began. The area would be roped-off, and only the special ticket-holders were allowed to partake.

At the Colorado Winefest in Stapleton a few weeks ago I got my chance to cover the seminar. It was undersold, but that may have been because it was held indoors and not so easy for people to find. Nevertheless, it was nice to be out of the rain and in some air conditioning. There were four wines to taste, one in each glass provided, all from Colorado and introduced by the winemakers themselves, which made the experience all the more interesting for me.

All I knew was that generally red wine was served in wider glasses to let it breathe more, enhancing the flavor as it is exposed to the air. Apparently, that is a bit short-sighted. White wine could also use some air after being bottled up, and champagne does better in a regular wine glass than in champagne glasses. “Think about it, how much surface area will you get in a champagne glass?” was the question posed to the crowd.

Our host decants a bottle of wine into the ever-so-popular "Eve" decanter.
Photo by Kim Dean

The Riedel Glass Company has been making glass and glasses — all in the same family — for over 255 years. All of their glasses are either mouth-blown in Austria or machine-blown in Bavaria, Germany. The family history is quite intriguing, and I recommend reading about it all online, but in the meantime there is a very interesting video you can watch on the Williams-Sonoma website showing the glasses being made in Austria with narration by George Riedel himself. He talks about his family and the small army of local glass-making artisans that make his glasses in the traditional way.

With my upcoming nuptials, I decided to register for some of the glasses and see what happens. We currently have four; one of each from the Vinum series, the Monrachet/Chardonnay, Burgundy, Sauvignon Blanc and Bordeaux (the highest-selling glass in the collection). Since they only come in sets of two, we may be “stuck” with three of each. Poor us. But what I would really like is the decanter (and amazing conversation piece) called “Eve.” It looks kind of suspicious, but on closer examination, it’s actually quite beautiful. At $495 each, it is only made by one man who uses his arms at the measurement for the length, and he can make up to four per day. (I checked the website, and it is in stock — just so you know.)

The Eve decanter is designed so that the wine has a long way down, perfectly aerating your favorite wine — the more expensive, the better, and once the bottle is poured into the decanter, there remains a gorgeous little foam at the surface. The shape is designed so as you turn it to pour into a glass, it only allows a perfect pour amount so you can enjoy it at it’s best. There is so much thought that goes into this, it just amazes me. Eve is also on display at the Museum Of Modern Art in New York City.

We tried a Cabernet Sauvignon by Canyon Wind Cellars in the Bordeaux glass and winemaker Jay Christiansen, and we were talking about decanting. He said, “Decant champagne. It’s out of this world. It will blow you away.” Riedel believes that all wine should be decanted.

Inside the most nifty packaging I’ve seen in a while, Riedel explains in detail each of their glasses’ shapes, which wine is meant to be experienced from them, and even how to clean and preserve your glasses. After all, for the amount of money they can cost, you want to take as good care of them as possible.

We tasted each wine by first sniffing the glass, since that should always be your first point of contact with the wine. The olfactory sense is every bit as much a part of the wine-tasting experience as actually drinking it. For several of the glasses, the rim is tapered, so as to “point” the aroma directly to your sense of smell. If you like that sensation, you will love the taste. Certain varietals are meant to be tasted in different parts of your mouth, and the designs of the varietal-specific glasses are created to enhance that sensation.

We were then asked to pour that wine in to the glass given us for tasting at the festival: small and non-descript, which is usually what’s handed out at wine festivals for tasting. Immediately, the aroma vanished. The taste was “inferior, with more acid and bitterness, the sugar is more pronounced, there is no minerality, and the finish is offensive,” according to our speaker. We actually got more aroma out of an empty Riedel glass than the “joker” glass. If you spent a lot of money on a bottle of wine and it tasted like that, you would be pretty upset. Pour it back into the carefully-constructed glass, and you are relieved. Both aroma and taste return.

It’s impossible to write everything I would like to here, but research is half the fun of wine. I strongly recommend splurging a little on your next trip to a festival and purchasing a ticket to a Riedel seminar!