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Murray Almond's "From the Left Island"

Are Real Riedel Glasses for Real?
© Murray Almond
25 November 2001

An Introduction to the Basics of Glassware
A Selection of glasses
Photo © Sue Courtney

One of the early things new wine lovers learn is the importance of the glass in enhancing the appreciation of wine. Anyone who's compared the flavour of wine from a straight-sided water tumbler to even a basic wine glass will be aware of the differences.

I have a few basics in what I look for in a decent wine glass, apart from wine that is.

  • A good shaped bowl. This should be able to hold a decent amount of wine when the glass is around one third full. This enables room for the wine to be swirled with being in danger or spilling and room for the aromas to concentrate.
  • A stem of a decent length so you can hold the glass without touching the bowl. This prevents the wine not being warmed too much by your hands, and helps avoid greasy fingermarks on the bowl.
  • A cut (rather than rolled) rim. This is a bit geeky, but I think it's a key factor in the appearance as well as how the wine is tasted onto the tongue. A cut rim allows the wine to poured evenly, when the bump of a rolled rim tends to dam the wine.

In my view the best all-around basic glass is the International Tasting Glass, also know as ISO or XL-5 glass (2nd to right in photo above). These can be found widely for less than $5 per glass, just check them for a cut rim before purchase. They present the wine well and the odd breakage can be worn without too many tears.

The Riedel Rave
However any discussion among wine lovers about glassware doesn't last long before the name Riedel is mentioned. Riedel is an Austrian (two 'a's no 'l') glass maker who revolutionised the appearance of the wineglass and it's marketing to wine lovers.

Riedel developed and refined the concept that different shaped glasses were suited to grape varieties, styles, and even the age of wines. That it is to say that the bowl shape that best suited a Pinot Noir was different to that which suited a Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz. Prior to this most glassware manufacturers had a range limited to Red Wine, White Wine, Sparkling and Port.

Here Riedel came along with ranges including 4 sparkling glasses, wine for young and aged Bordeaux, Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Grand Cru Burgundy, as well as distinct glasses for wine like Montrachet and Sauternes distinct from other similar styles of wine.

Riedel has three main ranges of glassware, the premium "Sommeliers" range, with prices to over $100 per stem, the mainstream "Vinum" range and the "budget" Overture range. Most wine lovers who own Riedels stick with the Vinum's, which has a good range of glasses for the individual styles.

So What's In A Riedel Glass? (apart from the wine)
The Wine Lover's glassware discussion referred to above doesn't get too far before the debate turns to whether Riedel glassware actually works. The key question is whether Riedel's claim that different glasses suit different wines has any weight or is, as many claim, very good marketing hype.

Being a bit of a sceptic myself I've done a couple of tests over time to see whether the Riedels can cut the mustard, in other words, can we separate the wineglass from the wank?. In both cases they came through.

Trial One: the Wine Geek
When the Riedel Shiraz Glass (416/30) was released I bought a couple and did a trial with my regular tasting buddy; The Good Doctor. My method was to assemble a range of wine glasses and put the same wine into each glass and ask TGD to tell me "Which glass presented the wine best?".

So I assembled the following glasses:

  • Riedel Vinum Bordeaux Glass (416/0)
  • Riedel Vinum Shiraz Glass (416/30)
  • Riedel Vinum Pinot Glass (416/7)
  • Riedel Vinum Chardonnay Glass (416/7)
  • ISO Tasting Glass
  • Kosta Boda Red Wine Glass
  • Orrefors Red Wine Glass
  • Vegemite Glass
Riedel Glasses
Riedel glasses used in the trial - images from the Riedel website.

I poured the same wine, masked, from a decanter into each glass. TGD then tasted the wine from all glasses and gave his pronouncement as to which glass presented the wine best, and then the exercise was repeated with a different wine. The two wines presented were a Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz, and then a Stoniers Reserve Pinot Noir, from Victoria's Mornington Peninsula.

In both cases the appropriate Riedel glass presented the respective wine. The Pinot showed most character from the Vinum Pinot glass and likewise for the Shiraz in the Vinum shiraz glass.

The academic purists among you may say that this result was skewed by the subject, being a wine geek, was already being predisposed to the results by some familiarity to the shapes of the glasses. So I decided to repeat the experiment.

Trial Two: The Bunny
An interstate work colleague was in town for business and I invited him around for dinner. He "liked wine" but didn't know much about the art and alchemy of the beast, and was a touch in awe, and more than a touch wary, of being in the presence of the wine geek. So after a quick tutorial of the swirl/sniff/sip/slurp/swallow of wine tasting I repeated the above experiment with him. This was more of a test in the subject knew nothing about the various wine shapes, let alone being able to identify the specific wine styles associated with the varieties. Again the wine was served blind from a decanter.

He studiously went down the range of glasses and identified the correct Riedel Glassware match to the Grape Variety from those presented. In this case it was a Cabernet and a Chardonnay, so it was not a case of 'biggest glass best".

Results, and a Surprise
These two tests showed it for me, in all cases the subject identified the grape variety that was matched to the appropriate Riedel glass shape, in preference to a wide range of glass shapes presented. As such, for the main glasses in the Vinum range of Riedel glassware, I endorse the selection of the appropriate Riedel glass for the wine. The surprising result of the trial was when I asked my subjects to rank the glasses in how well they presented the wine. In all cases the ISO Tasting Glass came out second or third in ranking. This ranking was even preferred over other Riedels, which have 'the look' over the range.

These results surprised me and provide further endorsement for my recommendation for the ISO Tasting Glass as the best everyday glass.

In answer to the question are Riedel glasses worth it? I'd give a qualified 'Yes'. I'm not sure that you need the full variety of glasses, but a selection for the wine you drink most wouldn't lead you far astray. There are now a number of other glassware makers applying the Riedel principles to deliver glassware at a less price than the Riedel range. The "Speiglau" range is talked of highly. Over here on the Left Island the "Esse Collection" range has a very good Red wine and Champagne/sparkling wine glass, which I've bought at around $6 per stem on special. These glasses are made from glass, as opposed to the lead crystal of the Riedel Vinum, but are great for the big dinner party.

You are paying a price premium for the Riedel Range, especially in the top Sommeliers range, however there is value to be found with careful glass selection. Riedel Champagne glass

Having said all that I have a great soft spot for the Riedel Sommelier's Vintage Champagne Glass (400/28) which I think is the most beautiful glass I've come across of any type. Sometimes there more in a wine glass than just the wine.

© Murray Almond
25 November 2001

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