"A mind of the quality of mine cannot derive its nutriment from cows." George Bernard Shaw, playwright, free thinker and Nobel Prize winner(1856-1950).
Wine and the Glass
Does the glass make the wine better?
Many say it does. Wine authorities assure us of the qualities that are revealed with the proper glass. Specialized stemware, each designed for a certain type of wine and promising to deliver the taste to the right portion of the tongue are available to us all, even if a bit expensive. Does it make any difference at all?
Certainly if we still used the baked clay and metal goblets, horns, wooden tankards, and leather "black jacks" of centuries past, switching to glass would make perfect sense. History shows that is exactly what most people did when inexpensive glassware became available to them. Wine drinkers noticed the difference along with everyone else: they switched.
That would bring us up to the wine glasses of the early Twentieth Century. There was some variation in style and size, based on local custom and usage more than anything else. Some glasses were tall and some short, some wide and some narrow, some beauriful and some ugly. There was no science to the use of them.
Then one man changed it all: Claus J. Riedel.
He was the ninth generation of the Riedel glass-making family. His father, recently released from his forced post-war employment in the USSR, had started the family business again in Austria. The genius of Claus Riedel took two forms.
First, he changed the stemware used for wine from colored glass and cut glass to a newer style. His glasses were plain and unadorned, almost stark in their simplicity. Since he no longer used cut glass, his stemware could be thinner and long-stemmed, deriving their elegance from the simplicity of their form rather than the intricacy of the cuts and designs imposed upon them. His art was the glass itself, not the decoration that could be imposed on the glass. Museums and collectors saw his glasses as works of art; the Museum of Modern Art in New York placed them in their collection.
Second, Claus Riedel pioneered the study of the effect of shapes on the way humans would perceive wine and other alcoholic beverages. Working with wine tasters, he discovered that they felt wine tasted "better" in his glasses, revealing more of the nuances and depths of the wine, providing a richer experience of the wine.
This led to studies to determine why that was so, leading to a continuous cycle of improvement. Soon they discovered that the same wine, served in different sizes and shapes of glasses, provided a different taste experience. Experimentation followed.
The bouquet of a wine, they soon found, changed from one glass to another. Riedel felt that the aromas concentrated within the glass in layers according to their specific density. By changing the size and shape of the glass, he attempted to tune the glass to specific types of wine. Large glasses, with only about a quarter filled, allowed the taster to experience the "nose" of the wine slowly, inhaling gently to bring the layers up from the depths. Red wines went best with large glasses, whites with medium size glasses, spirits with small ones.
The taste experience also changed with the glass. Puzzled by this, Riedel studied what was known of human tasting. By design, he created glasses that would send the wine to different parts of the palate. Tall glasses with narrow openings led the drinker to throw his head back as he tilted them. Wide openings led to a lowering of the head to sip from the glass and prevent spills. Those actions delivered the wine to different tastebuds within the mouth, changing the experience.
By 1961, Riedel was ready to deliver a startling innovation to the wine world. It was in that year that he introduced his new line, composed of different sizes and shapes. Wine drinking has not been the same since.
In 1973, Riedel introduced theirSommeliers series of stemware, designed to bring this development to a new level. Worldwide acceptance followed.
Speaking of the Riedel stemware, the wine critic Robert Parker said: "The effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make.
Today, Riedel continues on, with an eleventh generation getting ready to take the reins. They have competitors, naturally enough. But the wine world changed with the work of Claus Riedel, and we are all better for it.
Last modified: August 07, 2007