In my first post-college job, at a winery, I spent a lot of time thinking and talking about how wine is consumed and enjoyed. My winery used Riedel glasses, perhaps the most respected brand in the industry, but I was curious about the specific glasses, each shaped for a different varietal. I was skeptical that such subtle tweaks could make a difference.
Recently, I had a chance to see for myself. I was invited to a tasting at Barrister Winery with Maximilian Riedel, the 11th CEO of the company, visiting from Austria. I was prepared to have a lovely evening and then go back to using my Costco glasses.
There were rows of people, each with three wine glasses and three small pours of wine in separate containers. The glasses we were tasting with are part of the Veritas collection, Riedel’s lightest, thinnest crystal glasses (one collection out of several wine-specific and wine friendly collections). They were shaped for New World Pinot Noir, Old World Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. I was nervous that I would knock one over throughout the entire evening.
Although I was anxious to get started, Maximilian, dapper in a suit and a bright tie with a pocket square, took his time. He told us that they chose the name “Veritas” because it is the Latin for “the truth.” The idea, he said, was to find the truth in the wine, to experience it the way it was intended to be tasted.
First, we poured our small cup of Pinot Noir into all three glasses. We swirled it. We held it up to the light. He told us to bury our noses as far into the glass at they would go, taking in the scent in each glass. For a moment, I forgot that I was dealing with the same wine in three different glasses. The differences in scent were subtle, but they were there.
We tipped the glasses, observing the different shapes the wine formed as it traveled toward the edge. This affected how the wine met the tongue, how it tasted. Still, I wasn’t yet convinced.
Finally, we raised the Pinot Noir glasses to our lips. Maximilian told us to “make sure that you’re French kissing the wine. Tilt your head back and meet it with your tongue.” I complied. It was light and airy and smooth, everything a Pinot Noir should be. I looked at the other two pours waiting for me on the table. Would those glasses ruin this wine for me?
We drank from the Syrah glass next. I noted that my tongue met the wine differently: the Pinot Noir glass was slightly fluted and I had to almost stick my tongue out to reach the wine. Both the Syrah and Cabernet glasses curved in toward the wine. Almost before it had a chance to register, I knew there was something different. My lovely, light Pinot Noir seemed harsher, cheaper, in the other glasses. I tried the original again just to be sure. It was still wonderful.
We tried the other two wines and noticed similar slight differences. The Syrah and Cabernet were muted in the Pinot Noir glasses; the fruit I noticed in the varietal-specific glasses wasn’t discernible in the others. As we tasted the Syrah in a Cabernet glass, Maximilian said, “This is why people still prefer beer.” The burning, highly alcoholic taste lingered on my tongue long after we moved on.
I got to take my wine glasses home after the tasting, and I prepared to test them for myself, away from the beauty of Barrister’s barrels and the magical lilt of Maximilian’s voice, telling me when and what to taste.
I opened a bottle of my favorite varietal, Pinot Noir, and poured some into each of the three glasses, replicating the tasting. I sniffed and swirled and peered into the glass, reminding myself where my tongue was supposed to hit to pick up the fruit (even though the glass should do it for me). Away from the tasting, the difference was subtler, but it was still there. I realized that the slight rough edge of a wine I loved might come from the glass, and not the barrel.
At long last, I know the shape of the glass makes a difference in how the wine tastes, and changes the experience for the better. While there are many things that enhance wine enjoyment for me—a patio, a sunset, good conversation—these glasses are certainly among them.
You can purchase Riedel Veritas glasses at Vino! and Huckleberry’s.
Cara Strickland is a Spokane based freelance writer specializing in food and drink. She has been, at one time or another, food critic, food editor, and food writer for Spokane Coeur d’Alene Living since 2012.