When is a wine glass not a wine glass? When it’s a Riedel

by Nick Harman - Thursday October 1, 2015 2:10 pm

Nick gets to meet the man behind the legendary wine glass company and to try a new range of glasses uniquely designed to suit individual grape varieties.

‘The glass is the messenger, the wine to your mouth’, says Georg Riedel the man in charge of the company founded in Austria in 1756 by his ancestor Johann Cristoph Riedel.

Riedel, in case you didn’t know, make wine glasses, which is a bit like saying that Maserati make cars. Their glasses are state of the art and do far more than convey wine from A to B. ‘They are actually designed to enhance the wine’s flavours and aromas’, explains Herr Riedel.

‘You look sceptical,’ he says fixing me with a hard unflinching stare. It’s true, I am rather dubious. A glass is a glass, right? Well, wrong.

Water is the solution

Herr Riedel has a very clever and practical way of demonstrating how a glass affects liquid in the mouth. He half fills three different shape Riedel glasses from the new Riedel Veritas Series - a New World/Pinot Noir, a Cabernet Merlot, and Old Word/Syrah - with chilled water and invites me to sip from each one in turn.

The first has a tulip shape, the second a top that tapers in and the last is a more traditional red wine glass shape. What is interesting is how the temperature receptors on the tongue behave with the different glasses or rather how they are stimulated. The different glass shapes cause the drinker’s head to tilt back differing degrees, so affecting how the water flows across the palate.

The tulip shape also causes the tip of the tongue to lift up involuntarily, also affecting the flow. One glass makes the centre of the tongue feel cold, another the sides. One is just right. ‘So now you know which glass to drink your water from,’ says Georg mischievously.

His point is I think well proved, the shape of a glass can genuinely change the way a wine is perceived on the palate by the way it directs the liquid, as well with its varying shapes providing the more generally accepted benefit of holding or releasing the scent molecules.

Turning water into wine

But enough of this water lark, let’s try some wine. We are in a very good place to do that, in High Timber on the banks of the Thames with its excellent collection of South African wines. Outside we sample some excellent Champagne Billecart Salmon, from Riedel’s new  ‘Champagne Wine Glass’.

A larger rim diameter enables the scent of the Champagne to be released, in a way which is not possible with a narrow flute, I’m told. The glass also includes a ‘sparkling point’ to aid the formation of the bubbles.

At the dining table, Herr Riedel explains the genesis of the new Veritas Series as we await starters. They are machine made, but they seem hand made. The challenge he issued to his team was to execute, in crystal, the finest and lightest machine blown glasses ever made using the very latest manufacturing techniques developed by the Weiden factory team.

The glass is 15% taller than Vinum (Riedel's first machine made line introduced 1986) but 25% lighter and finer, whilst still dishwasher safe, break resistant and suitable for long term daily use at home and even, he claims, in a restaurant. Well given how much the glasses cost, it would be a brave restaurant that did that.

Feeding the chosen few

We eat Charred Salmon with a smoked potato mousseline, caviar, watercress and game chips and from the three glasses drink Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir. Does it taste better from the New World glass? Yes I think it does, it’s delicious anyway with the excellent fish.

Next up a beef short rib, with prunes steeped in Earl Grey along with crushed swede and carrot, apple puree and a dash of gravy. With this is poured Ernie Els 2013 Proprietors Syrah as Herr Riedel demonstrates one of his elegant decanters, how it brings the carbon dioxide out in a foamy crackle. ‘If you like your wines to taste softer,’ he says, ‘decant them.’

And finally a double chocolate torte of decadent richness and with a salted (of course) caramel mousse. Jordan Stellenbosch Cobblers Hills 2011 does the job here and one can clearly detect the difference between the glasses. The New World glass is as good at the job as its name promises, but for some reason here I prefer the wine out of the Merlot glass.

It of course all, at the end of the day, a matter of taste but with whatever Riedel glass you choose, you certainly will taste more.

For more information on the Riedel Veritas Series and for a complete selection of all Riedel glassware and decanters, visit www.riedel.co.uk

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