‘If you want to insult my glasses, call them pretty,’ announces master glassmaker Georg Riedel to a packed audience at Vinopolis on London’s Bankside. The tenth-generation owner of internationally renowned company Riedel is on a mission to prove that good glassware isn’t just decorative. His hypothesis, which I’ve come along to test tonight, is that the vessel you drink from can have a serious impact on the flavour of the wine you put in it.
I’ve been to wine tastings before, but they’ve usually been rather raucous, hedonistic affairs. This event is different: for a start, we’re positively encouraged to make use of our spittoon, and we’re told quite sternly only to drink when we’re ‘invited’ to do so. We begin, to everyone’s surprise, with a water tasting: the idea is to compare how a flavourless liquid tastes when sipped from the three different glasses in front of us. At first there are some sceptical looks among the audience, but it doesn’t take long for us to acknowledge that there’s a huge difference between the subtle, tickling sensation of sipping from the taller, thinner, fluted glass and the way the liquid goes directly to the back of our throats when imbibed from the wider vessel.
The next step is to find out how this principle translates to wine. For Riedel, making wine glasses is a science rather than an art (‘if producing wine is about chemistry, producing glasses is about physics,’ he says). His latest ‘Veritas’ series, which we’re drinking from tonight, is designed to be ‘grape specific’, with each piece created to suit a particular wine’s thickness, sugar content, acidity, minerality and volume of tannins. We learn that a fluted glass is ideal for a lighter vintage such as a Pinot Noir, whereas a wider one is more appropriate for a full-bodied red such as a Cabernet Sauvignon. The glass can even have an effect on the way we taste food, Riedel tells us – and to prove this, we try different wine-and-chocolate pairings with each of the glasses. It turns out that a Pinot, when sipped from the appropriate glass, can bring out the vanilla aroma from white chocolate, while a fuller-bodied Syrah is offset beautifully by the spicy flavour of chilli chocolate.
Before we leave, Riedel has one more surprise for us: we’re to drink Coca-Cola from a glass he’s manufactured especially for the popular caffeinated beverage. While I can’t honestly say that a Coke is uppermost in my list of desires by this stage in the evening, I have to admit I was impressed by how well the liquid poured into the bespoke glass, with no ‘head’ on top but all the effervescence preserved. It’s a lesson that we should apply to sparkling wine, too, says Riedel, who has created a ‘Champagne Wine Glass’ that he says is far more appropriate for sipping a bubbly drink than the tall, narrow flutes to which we’re accustomed. We don’t have the opportunity to test this today, but if the glass is as light – and as affordable – as the rest of the range, I may just have to add one to my Christmas list.
‘Veritas’ glasses, from £55 for a pair (riedel.co.uk)
Words: Frances Hedges