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Good Sunday morning and welcome to the WineGuyMike radio show. I recently had the pleasure of attending a stemware demonstration with Maximillian Riedel. The Riedel Wine Glass Company has been making wine glasses for 300 years and Maximilian Riedel is the 11th generation family member representing their wine glass company.
I personally have used Riedel stemware for 20 years to enjoy, savor, and taste wines. After two decades of experience and familiarity with a product one would “assume” the knowledge gained by use or consumption of a product that you might qualify as somewhat of an expert. Boy was I wrong, ouch, humbled once again.
I have studied wine nearly my entire life but the 90 minutes I spent in the wine glass demonstration with Maximilian was not only the best presentation I have ever attended, but also the most compelling. This demonstration truly stirred my wine soul. If you ever have the opportunity to attend a Riedel Wine Glass demonstration please do not miss it.
We have all heard the term “form versus function”, for the Riedel Wine Glass Company it is all about form and function. I’ll get back to this point but first I would like to share a few insights about wine.
When we open a bottle of wine to let it breath, decant, or aerate the wine with one of the devices that have been developed to enhance our wine experience. Oxygen “opens up” wine and brings out the aroma of the wine.
There are 2-3 elements of wine that create aroma and flavor. The first one of these elements is the fruit. The second element is the yeast that is used to ferment the wine. Whether the winemaker uses a natural or commercial strain of yeast the fruit and yeast combine during fermentation to produce aroma and flavor or sense of taste. The third influence upon the wine in your glass may be the oak barrel that the wine was aged in. Some varietals of white wine are fermented and aged in steel, in this case there is no oak influence to the sense of taste or aroma. Many white wines today are fermented and aged in steel tanks with some or all of the white wine spending a brief amount of time in oak barrels. This will influence the taste and aroma of a wine. Today’s trend though, “Oak is Out”. Most white wine styles today are trending towards crisp, bright fruit in white wines.
Red wine and some varietals of white wine like Chardonnay spend more time in oak barrels. Red wines in particular benefit from barrel aging. During fermentation red wines get their color from the skin of the grape. Tannin occurs as a result of grapes and their skins soaking together during the fermentation process. Barrel aging allows the red wines to develop depth of color and refine or settle tannin which is the grittiness you experience when drinking a red wine. Different varietals produce different amounts of tannin. For example Pinot Noir will express less tannin than Cabernet Sauvignon.
So we know fruit, yeast and wood produce aroma, flavor, and tactile sensation when you drink wine. Your palate or more commonly known as the tongue can sense four different tastes and possibly five. Our sense of tastes are; sweet, bitter, salty, sour, and perhaps an ability to sense MSG otherwise known as umami. The mouth also has the ability to “feel” cool, warm, dryness, tingling, a coating feeling, and a feeling of numbness.
Sweetness is perceived immediately when you taste a wine as this area is located right on the tip of your tongue. Acidity in a wine is recognized in the cheek area, on the sides of the tongue which is the area that senses “sour” flavors, and then also in the back of the throat. Lighter red wines and white wines generally have a higher degree of acidity.
The middle of the tongue is the area that recognizes anything salty. In the case of wine this is where tannin which is a tactile sensation, not a flavor, is felt. When wines are young the tannins are what make a wine present as too dry.
Fruit and its individual varietal characteristics are smells not tastes. But the weight of the wines fruit will be felt on the middle of your tongue. This is why wines are referred to as light, medium, or full bodied.
The aftertaste or what is referred to as the finish of a wine is what happens when you actually swallow wine. In a good wine this is a very pleasing sensation as all of the components of a wine come together in harmony and balance then linger in your mouth and mind.
So why is the glassware such an important companion to good wine? The Riedel Wine Glass Company has designed a wine delivery system, the wine glass, which is varietal specific. The Riedel wine glass presents the aroma and the taste of wine perfectly. Form versus function is not so much a term that describes conflict but better describes the intersection of form and function united for a best purpose. This is exactly what a Riedel wine glass delivers to our nose and our palate. A varietal correct wine glass from the Riedel Wine Glass Company has the ability to make 10 dollar wine taste like 100 dollar wine.
Prior to setting in on the stemware demonstration with Maximilian I was very much of the mindset that great stemware was reserved for expensive wine. Most of us may enjoy a daily glass of wine; this is what I refer to as a daily drinker, a bottle of wine for twelve dollars or under. The right wine glass will really enhance an affordable wine.
I’m going to share pictures of five Riedel wine glasses that you must have. Once you have tasted wine from a Riedel wine glass you will understand that these varietal specific wine glasses accomplish three things. First the glass holds the wine within the shape of the varietal specific body of the glass. Due to the quality and shape of the glasses it is very easy to visually examine your wine. The opening or rim of each specific glass allows aroma from the wine to be revealed, and enjoyed. The glass allows a person to discern the aromatics of a wine. Secondly the Riedel wine glasses target and direct wine onto the correct area of the palate. This is also specific to each varietal of wine, for instance drinking wine from the Riesling/Sauvignon Blanc glass is delivered directly to the tip of the tongue where it is best recognized for its varietal nuances. If you are drinking a big Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley the Riedel wine glass delivers this wine onto the mid to back palate where the nuances of this varietal are best distinguished.
The pictures that I share visually demonstrate how the trajectory of wine will be delivered to the palate. It is important to note the shape or pattern of wine as it lies in the body of a glass that is held at an angle. I have tipped the glass and allowed the wine to flow to the rim of the glass. Notice how the wine spreads both vertically and horizontally in the glass once it has been tipped.
The first glass is Riedel’s Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc glass, notice the wine as I hold the glass at an angle and allow the wine to flow to the lip of the glass. This is how this wine will be trajected onto your palate. You can see this wine will hit the palate right up front. This allows the palate to enjoy the sweetness of the fruit on the tip of the tongue.
The diamond shape you see in the newest Riedel Chardonnay wine glass is truly reflective of today’s style of Chardonnay as demanded by consumers. At most gatherings you taste wine at you will often hear comments from wine drinkers that they no longer desire heavy handed oak in their Chardonnay. Riedel has responded to the consumer by designing a glass that is diamond shaped. Many Chardonnay wines now have much more influence from cold fermentation. The result is a Chardonnay wine that is bright with fruit and acidity. The new style of Chardonnay may be aged in a combination of steel tanks and oak barrels. Chardonnay is a full body white wine whereas a Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling are much lighter in body and are non-oaked in flavor and style. When you examine both pictures that I have shared with you it is very easy to see the pattern of wine that will be transferred onto the palate is very different. The diamond shape glass focuses the bright, and bigger fruit aroma to the nose while the pattern of wine that flows to the palate is broad. This is in direct comparison to what is delivered by the Riesling style glass. Once again Chardonnay is a fuller fruit that typically has some influence from oak aging. This will vary depending on the style dictated by winemakers. The dry nature of the Chardonnay grape combined with a slight nuance of tannin from oak aging is delivered mid-palate. Wine delivery by design, this is what Riedel has engineered into each and every wine glass.
Red wine glasses from Riedel.
The Riedel Pinot Noir glass as you will note in this picture delivers wine close to the tip of the tongue so that the sweetness of the fruit will be enjoyed. You will notice that the wine near the lip of the glass is not nearly as broad as the Sauvignon Blanc, thus the wine is projected just behind the tip of the tongue. As you will also note that the pattern of the wine in the glass suggests that the wine will then spread to the mid-palate. Remember that the fine tannin and acidity of the fruit will be recognized by the middle of the tongue and cheek areas of the mouth.
Riedel’s Red Bordeaux glass and their newest large Bordeaux style glass which appears to be a Bordeaux style wine glass on steroids are great examples of form and function. The new large red wine glass is designed to accommodate a new style or trend in red wines that are being produced in warmer climate zones like Napa Valley. Some of these big powerful red wines have high alcohol content approaching fourteen percent with some even reaching 15%. Riedel recognized that wines this big and powerful need a deep glass with a large body. Examine the different pattern that the wine forms within the glass as they are tipped at an angle. The Pinot Noir and Bordeaux style wines lie very differently within their respective glasses when tilted at an angle.
Perhaps one of the most important things to understand about the Riedel Wine Glass Company is that evolution of design never stops. They currently are developing brand specific wine glasses for special wines from around the world. They also recognize that styles and trends in wine and grape growing continues to change. Viticulturists worldwide now understand that some grape varietals may be best suited to a valley, the hillside, or grow best on the hiltops. Rest assured that The Riedel Wine Glass Company is paying attention and designing glasses for what is to come.
Try these two wines with your Thankgiving dinner, they will not disappoint.
2010 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
This dark, garnet-colored Pinot Noir is floral with aromas of rose petals, spice, ginger, cassis and fruit aromas of raspberry. There is a bit of dusty earth with just hint of vanilla too. This wine is showy with a seamless viscosity that is balanced with a healthy bit of tartness to keep the wine fresh and lively. It’s full in the palate with fine, coco-powder-like tannins. A long beautiful finish.
Here is another wine that will pair nicely with a Thanksgiving meal and guests will certainly enjoy. Both of these wines are available at Liquid Planet in Downtown Missoula.
Gentil Hugel 2010
This white wine is a beautiful blend of the Noble grapes from the Alsace region in France. It displays a light youthful color in the glass and is ripe with floral, fruit.