“You don’t drink wine to quench your thirst. Wine comes with an emotion that needs to be shared. That’s the reason we pour it in small sips. It brings people together. Sharing wine is the only reason you don’t drink it from the bottle … It’s an emotion.”
That’s the answer you get from Georg Riedel when the question of why we don’t drink wine — like sodas, water or beer — directly from the bottle. It may sound like a lot of hooey (and a great deal about wine and wine tasting is) but the right glass can indeed make a huge difference in a wine’s taste and therefore our enjoyment of it. That’s not saying it will bring out the essence of rare Amazonian ferret dung with hints of extinct Baffin Island lime leaf (see, hooey), but the right glass can make a big meaty Brunello meatier and a refreshing Torrontes more refreshing.
Essentially a family business, Austria-based Riedel’s glassmaking history dates back to the 17th century, with the current chief executive Georg Riedel the brain behind Riedel’s expansion into the so-called mass market. There are naysayers, and Riedel knows it. Tell someone their oaked chardonnay would be much tastier from one of Riedel’s bulbous models, rather than the traditional straighter glass for unoaked chards and they’ll laugh at you. “There’s not a single person who’s not doubtful about it,” says Riedel. “People don’t like complication and this kind of concept complicates your wine enjoyment. So there is resistance.”
The wine glass took over from stubby highballs simply because technology evolved enough to allow for thin, long-stemmed, egg-shaped glasses — which is the key — with the taper on top cut off. “Flared glasses are beautiful… but the egg shape has an incredible advantage for sensing the aromas.” And as we know, if you can’t smell it, you can’t taste it. And Riedel believes that should apply to all beverages, aromatic or otherwise, which is a “wide open field to enhance coffee, tea, soda” that he’d love to take a crack at. Those can involve temperature control and interior surfaces. There is no end to the science of a drink for Riedel, whose personal preference is for reds (Pinot Noir, thanks), and whites served at 14 to 15 degrees.
Of course the question becomes one of how anyone could possibly know exactly what a given wine is supposed to taste like. “It’s like music. It’s harmony … You want all the flavour contributors lined up and none sticking out. It’s something you learn as you do this. We use tasting panels when we produce new glasses — partly specialists, partly amateurs,” explains Riedel of the process that can take years.
The introduction of the machine-made Vinum range in 1986 is what made the brand more widely recognisable — and affordable. Prices at Town House range from $135 to $1,235 per glass. Aside from the classic grape-specific Sommeliers, Vitis and Vinum lines, there’s the O Wine Tumbler, a stemless series (for klutzes, perhaps) that includes a water glass and two sizes of highballs and the BR Series specifically made for spirits (no, tequila is not for shooting) among others. If there’s a wine you like, Riedel has a glass for it. Which doesn’t mean you need 152 in the house. There are tasting glasses to choose from and several work double- or triple-duty. “Different price categories allow more people to enjoy wine the way it should be enjoyed,” says Riedel of the price diversity. On top of it some of Riedel’s decanters look to super cool to use. Just try and avoid the temptation to drink from them.