I feel certain that I do not have a drop of “wine snob” blood in my body, but I definitely like to get the best value out of a glass of wine. Several years ago I began to hear about some very expensive, “magic” glassware that could turn an ordinary wine into a divine vintage. Tastings at wineries sometimes were served in these glasses I came to know as “Riedel.” However, that one glass was used for each wine, be it white or red. How could you discover the magic that way?
In February 2012, Reidel (phonetically: Ree/duhl) offered a program for participants in the International Wine, Food, Wine and Travel Writer’s Association’s (IFW&TWA) Conference at the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas. The partakers were given four magical wine glasses and a “joker” glass. Using the motto, “The content commands the shape!” we were told that we would find a completely different experience with the same wine in a glass specially crafted than in the all-purpose glass called the joker. I, however, remained skeptical as it was too difficult to believe. But by the end of the experience I was completely won over.
Claus Riedel, ninth generation Riedel, was born in 1925 in Bohemia, now known as the Czech Republic. When he was just a teenager he was conscripted into the German army during World War II and sent to Italy, where he was captured by the Americans and interned in a prisoner-of-war camp. When the war ended he was put on a train bound for Germany but as the train passed through Innsbruck, Austria, he jumped off the train and there met Daniel Swarovski, founder of Swarovski Crystal. From that fateful chance encounter he began his career as a trainee the production of glassware. In 1955 his father was freed by the Soviet Union, and with the help of Swarovski they purchased a bankrupt glass factory and began their family’s glass making tradition.
Claus Riedel started an experiment with glassware in 1957 and came to the conclusion that wine with the exact same conditions, such as temperature and time, tasted “noticeably different” in differently modified glasses. He then spent the next 16 years experimenting with glass configurations and how they varied with different wine varietals and wines of different regions. He discovered that the taste imparted varied with the size, shape, thickness, and rim diameter and thinness of the glass. He found the taste delivered a difference in the balance and complexity of the wine. Not many experts concurred with this theory, but in 1959 his Bordeaux model was named “Most Beautiful Glass in the World” by Corning Museum of Glass. Today you will find his masterpieces in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.
At the Palazzo we were led in our exploration by Neal McNeal representing Reidel. When we entered the session we found a placemat containing five circles. Each circle had a number or letter. Next to each chair was a carefully constructed box that contained the glasses, which we placed in the circles. Originally, Reidel glasses were hand-blown and extremely pricy. Now there is line called Vinum stemware – equally carefully produced but more affordable. Before the wine was poured we picked up the glass to note the thin, light, and long-stemmed glass and noted the balance, not heavy at all compared to the joker, which was made of soda ash glass. >P>Our first wine, a Grans-Fassion Riesling, was poured into the joker and tasted. Then, we poured half the wine into the Reidel glass and carefully compared the contents in each glass. I was an instant believer! To judge a wine you look first at its appearance and then your use your sense of smell to catch the aroma – the fragrance derived from the fruit. The fruit had come alive in the Riedel glass, its highly aromatic character delivered apple and peach mixed with delicate floral undertones of honey and spice on the nose. On the palate the bouquet – the odor originating from the fermentation and aging of the wine – delivered a hint of slate or limestone. None of these qualities were observed in the joker glass. We examined the other wines in the same manner – a 2007 Matanzas Creek Sonoma Chardonnay, a Cambria 2009 Julia’s Vineyard Pinot Nair, and a Freemark Abby 2008 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – with the same magical results.
A happy surprise at the conclusion of the event came when we learned that the suitcase-like box and the five glasses were ours to take home and try our own experiments with the fruit of the vine. If you are interested in purchasing these glasses at a modest price just go to your favorite search engine and you will find bargains from Williams Sonoma to Target!
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