By: M O N I Q U E S I M P S O N
Scouring the retail shelves there appears to be an ever-increasing assortment of gift packs that include glassware seeking to differentiate themselves from the norm serving as a timely reminder that quality stemware is a great gift idea for the special people in your life who appreciate wine.
I am a strong believer that the ‘tool’ you use to enjoy your wine is almost as important as the liquid in your glass. Though if it’s a relaxed night in at home with friends with pizza and a run of the mill bottle of wine, to be frank, I am not fussy and any tumbler would do. But if I was opening a classy bottle it would be criminal to serve the wine in inappropriate stemware.
So why is glassware important? For several decades the Austrian glassmaker, George J. Riedel, has advocated the notion that most importantly the shape and design, and to a lesser extent the material of the glass, radically affects how a wine taste.
After years of experimentation and fact testing his hypothesis with some of the world best wine palates in blind tastings, Riedel demonstrated time and time again that having “the right glass” for different grape varietals or wine styles can indeed make a wine taste markedly better by emphasizing the wines intended character.
While some of the world’s famous wine commentators argue that the subtle differences made by glassware are only for ‘purists’, humans complex physiology would appear to support Riedel’s theory. Take a moment to dive into your memory bank. Most of us can recall examples where despite the exquisite meal matched with a perfectly matched glass of wine in front of us we never fondly enjoy nor remember the experience if in the presence of bad company, a rude server, or a couple arguing at the table alongside. Thus, while it’s true the enjoyment of wine has a lot to do with the company we keep and our surroundings, glassware designed to enhance wine’s aromatic qualities is an important part of the equation and serves to improve our overall wine experience.
Can a wine glass really affect the taste of wine?
A glass’ shape affects the flow of wine from the glass, therefore, impacting where the wine first comes into contact with our palate. Following Deiter Hanig’s theory of different taste zones on the tongue (bitter, sweet, salty and sour), Riedel claimed his specially designed varietal glassware could direct the wine flow to taste zones on the palate to enhance the unique, desirable characteristics that set the wine apart. Hanig’s theory of the tongue’s “taste map” was later discredited by Dr Virginia Collings who found that the four basic taste zones didn’t operate in zones but rather were picked up by our thousands of individual taste buds distributed in four basic types across our tongue. Despite theoretical differences it still holds that there is an important relationship between a wine glass and the appreciation of its contents. While all of the tongue can taste almost everything through its dense array of taste buds all of the time, the way in which food and beverages enter the mouth and interact with the tongue, roof of the mouth and throat is all crucial to taste perception.
But taste is far more complex than just the nerve and sensory data delivered from the mouth to the brain after all researchers suggest smell informs around 80% of what we taste. Taste is a complete sensory experience made up from a complex interplay of perceiving sensors that all contribute to our taste perceptions.
While glassware impacts not only the way the wine gets into your mouth and what physiological space it encounters (for example, whether the glassware allows the wine to move slowly across your tongue versus straight down your throat), it also appeals to our visual cues, our tactile sense of the glass, and importantly our sense of smell and our ability to breath in the full spectrum of a wine’s aromas.
With this in mind, it evidences the fact that the glass you select to enjoy your wine really does matter and everything about that glass from the size of the mouth opening, the shape of the bowl, the roll of the lip, our nose and mouth positioning, to its aesthetics, design and thickness, influences our perceptions of how a wine smells and tastes.
It is important to keep in mind this concept is universal rather than specific c to wine. Take for example a freshly brewed, double shot of espresso. An espresso served in a traditional espresso cup full to the brim tastes quite different to the same espresso served in an oversized paper cup to go. Try the same exercise with a quality bottle of wine in a coffee cup, a water glass and then in a wine glass and you will instantly find the type of glass dramatically affects your appreciation of the wine. If we take the same exercise a step further again tasting the wine from, for example, a standard wine tasting glass and then the ‘correct’ glass you should notice how the speci cally designed and shaped glassware unmasks the wines’ ner nuances. These marked differences in taste perceptions aptly demonstrate that a great wine glass makes a great wine taste even better and how a poor choice in wineglass undermines the whole experience. Whilst there is some discord about what actually is the correct glass (for example sparkling wine), there are generally recognized rules of thumb for mainstream specialist glassware and, in essence, we taste the way we see – a wine tastes a little tighter and more concentrated in a narrow glass and more ampli ed and generous in a rounder, broader glass. At the end of the day it’s important to bear in mind an exceptional wine will always deliver the parameters of quality – length, complexity, concentration, integration, balance – regardless of your glassware choice. That said, I firmly believe that a stunning bottle of wine without the correct glassware is like shaving with a blunt blade. Yes, any old glass like a blunt blade will get the job done but if you want “sharp blade” precision, only the correct glass can open up the wine showing more of its potential and accentuating the wines nest qualities making quality stemware a sound investment.
Today, almost every reputable glassware company offers their own unique range of glassware designed to accommodate different wine styles and varietals. With as many glassware options as there are wines on the market knowing which glassware to invest in understandably seems daunting. In an ideal world, our cupboard should hold stemware for sparkling wines, two red styles (one for Burgundy and one for Bordeaux styles), and one all-purpose white style. But if you or a friend is fanatical about one particular varietal it may be worthwhile investing in stemware specifically made for that wine; or if the cupboards are bursting at the seams there are several all-purpose glasses on the market which provide an optimal tasting experience. When it comes to what to look for in a high-quality wine glass it’s important to ask yourself a few key questions. Does the glass aesthetically wow you and is the glass comfortable to hold? Is it plain and clear devoid of any colour, designs and markings so you can see the star of the show, the wine? Is the glass thin enough to allow the wine to take center stage? Does the glass have a generous bowl that tapers to the rim guiding the wines concentrated aromatics to your nose and allowing you to swirl without losing any wine? Where is the widest part of the bowl? Commentators such as Robert Parker suggest a 3:1 ratio of air to wine in a glass so if the balloon glass is too big you may find you have to pour most of a full bottle into the glass to get that ideal ratio proving impractical if you wish to share.
At the end of the day, our sensory perceptions, tastes and personal preferences are in nitely varied and entirely subjective so be sure to taste your wines from a range of glassware to see for yourself which stemware opens up the wine to your liking and gives you the best tasting experience.
Cheers and raise a glass to releasing yours and other fine wines potential this season!
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glassware and ordering online visit: www.adelion.at and