Apr 26, 2012
It doesn't seem long ago that owning wine
glasses was enough to mark one out as a sophisticate, but while I was
smashing my way through boxes of Ikea stemware, the rules changed.
Matching glassware to wine is not new – Raymond Postgate's 1951 Plain Man's Guide to Wine dismisses
traditional glass shapes for sherry, claret, port, champagne and hock,
denouncing sherry glasses as "an inn-keepers' trick, [for making] the
quantity of wine look much more than it is". Postgate says one glass
will do: "It is colourless, rather tulip-shaped, and the upper rim of
the cup narrows."
While Postgate was bemoaning fancy glassware, in Austria, ninth-generation glassmaker Claus Riedel was
theorising about the effect on wine of the glass's shape. The company
launched a range of grape-specific glasses in 1961, claiming: "Wide,
open glass shapes require us to sip by lowering the head, whereas a
narrow rim forces the head to tilt backwards so that the liquid flows.
This delivers and positions the beverage to different 'taste zones' of
specific zones are now known to be an oversimplification and I am not
convinced about them, but I have come to test the theory out with John
Lewis's style-specific wine glasses for different weights of whites and
reds. Wine expert Will Parker admits he shared my scepticism, but thinks
he can change my mind. Certainly John Lewis customers seem to be
convinced: the range, launched last year at £30 for four glasses, has
been flying off the shelves, with a sales peak this month.
try out the large white glass. The effect on an Australian chardonnay
is startling – out of the standard glass, it is dull and heavy,
reminiscent of a hundred pub pours; the tailored glass spreads it evenly
around my mouth, bringing out far more exciting flavours of pineapple,
smoke, even minerality.
Riedel's glasses remain covetable among wine lovers (although starting at £65, they are not a casual proposition) – the Wine Advocate's Robert Parker has described the difference they can make as "profound", while Victoria Moore says in her book How to Drink that
buying an expensive bottle of wine without decent glasses "would be
like buying a state-of-the-art sound system and fitting it to cheap
But not everyone is convinced. The Oxford Companion to Wine’s Jancis Robinson and Hugh Johnson acknowledge
subtle differences made by glassware but maintain such things are for
"purists". Even champagne flutes, the most mainstream of the specialist
glasses, are of debated worth. Richard Geoffroy, Dom Pérignon's chef de
cave, swears by white wine glasses for serving champagne, because
flutes, while concentrating the fizz, can also stifle older, more
complex wines: "You taste the way you see," he says. "A narrow flute
will narrow the taste, an ample wine glass will amplify the taste, a
flat saucer will flatten the taste."
you are drinking out of, the most important thing is to ensure it
is clean, stemmed, to keep the wine at a constant temperature and
ideally, tulip-shaped to concentrate the aromas. The right glassware
can't make a bad wine good, but it can make a good wine more enjoyable –
if you can avoid knocking them over, of course. Which is a talent I
fondly hope to acquire with age.
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