During the 2012 Park City Food & Wine Classic, I attended an interesting seminar about glassware. Specifically, it was about stemware designed especially for wine, which is what Riedel Glas Austria makes.
The Riedel glassmaking story dates back more than 250 years, when the Riedel family’s first glassworks was established in Bohemia. The modern era of Riedel glassmaking begins in 1961, when Riedel headed in a new direction—away from high-production glassware and toward making unadorned, delicate fine-wine glasses intended to enhance specific styles of wine.
When I first became aware of Riedel a dozen or so years ago, it offered three levels of stemware: Sommelier, Vinum and Ouverture. Today, Riedel has a whopping 12 different glassware series. They range from the entry level, economically priced Ouverture series ($12 each) and the mid-priced, benchmark Vinum ($22 to $30 each) to the über-expensive Sommeliers Black Tie series ($95 to $139 each). New additions to Riedel include the Swirl series of ergonomically designed, stemless glasses, the O series of stemless glasses and the extra-roomy Vinum XL series.
The basic philosophy behind Riedel stemware is that a glass alters our perception of what we drink from it. If you don’t believe this, try drinking a hot cuppa joe from a thin crystal Champagne glass. It won’t taste anything like it does from a thick ceramic mug. At the Riedel seminar, we sipped various styles of wines using both Riedel stemware and lower-quality glassware. The differences were striking. Whether you employ Riedel stemware or not, try drinking the same wine from two very different types of wine glasses at home—say, a red wine from a sherry glass versus a normal red-wine glass. The difference will be obvious.
We use Riedel Vinum glassware (as well as a few Sommeliers glasses that we bring out for special occasions) at home, and I’ve been very happy with them. They’re more practical than you might think. We wash ours in the dishwasher; all Riedel stemware is dishwasher-safe, even the top-of-the-line Sommeliers series. And, as they pointed out in the Riedel seminar, you’re much more likely to break a glass washing it in the sink (especially if you’ve had too much wine to drink) than you are in the dishwasher.
While I’m talking specifically here about Riedel, I think investing in quality stemware from any company is a good investment. For starters, the bowls are typically oversized, allowing the drinker to swish and swirl the wine without spilling, and for the wine to breathe, which enhances flavor. And the glasses are, literally, “crystal clear,” which enables the wine drinker to actually see all the colorful nuances of the wine. Most importantly, Riedel glasses are carefully designed to place particular types of wine in particular places on your tongue. This really makes a difference in the way you perceive wine. Riedel glasses put wine—Champagne, let’s say—on exactly the part of the palate where Champagne flavors are best received.
However, Riedel glasses simply enhance and amplify a wine’s characteristics. So drinking lousy wine out of a Riedel glass won’t make it better. But drinking a great wine out of a Riedel wine glass will allow you to enjoy all of the wonderful flavors, appearance and aromas that you paid so much for in the first place. So why drink good wine from a bad glass?
But even George Riedel himself doesn’t demand his wine in a Riedel glass. His advice: “It’s better to drink wine with good friends from a plastic cup than to drink with people you don’t like from Riedel glasses.”