Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The greatest trick Riedel ever played was convincing the wine world....

Don't know if you've ever had the misfortune of sitting through a presentation on Riedel's crystal wine glasses, but the basic pitch is that they claim that the actual shape of the glass causes the wine to hit your tongue in such a way as to bring out the best in the wine.  They actually make an entire line of differently shaped wine glasses so that you don't have to soil your tastebuds by having a wine with a base of white seashell minerality poured onto your tastbuds for crisp apple tart.  Check it out for yourself, I can't make this stuff up....
Now, as a serious collector you can't pour your guests Cabernet in a Chardonnay glass anymore!  Non!  You must have a set of each major varietal (at a cost of roughly $125 for a set of 6)!  Assuming regular breakage (hey, these aren't made of stainless steel), we're talking over $1,000 for a decent set of drinking glasses!!!
That's the beauty of it all and a tip of the cap to the marketing genius of Riedel (not that it takes much to part the wine snobs from their money).  The best part is that it's a complete scam!  Tasting room employees and wine educators think its pretty funny, but do little to dispel the myth.  Want to help?
Try this.  Put 5 pours from the same bottle into four glasses intended for that varietal and a fifth "ringer" glass that feels the same on the lips and is of the same height, but not intended for that varietal (try for a Bordeaux-based red and a Burgundy-based white for example).  If Riedel is correct, you should be able to pick out the ringer every time........."hmmmmm, wait - let me try those again.  Are you sure one of the glasses is different?"
The kicker though, has to be that they have specially designed water glasses! My! Now if your water has a little sulphurous note to it, and you'd like to showcase that to your dinner guests, you can select specific water glasses for the job...perhaps a water glass highlighting the minerality of the local groundwater instead? Just the right accent for that feral 'Possum Almandine you're serving to the out-of-town relatives this fall.    Tres Martha Stewart!
And don't even get me started on how stupid it is to buy leaded glassware to use for acidic beverages like wine...decanters & glassware with lead content will leach it into the wines.
What idiots!


Blogger Combat Doc said...

I was abartender at the Biltmore in Miami and I agree with you. 150 by the glass and even if Reidel was right most wont notice the difference. I personally use their single malt glass because its really cool.

July 20, 2004 9:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To make matters worse the quality of their crystal has gone down. I recently bought a set of the Chianti "Vinum" stems (because I liked the way they looked not because I believe any of the pseudo-science). The mark on the base says "RIEDEL", whereas on some older glasses I have, also "Vinum" I believe, the mark is "JR". The stem of these new glasses has a visible seam that you can easily feel as you spin the glass between your fingers. Also the base is much thicker and rough around the edge. I carefully compared these new glasses to my older ones and the difference is quite noticeable. They're going back to Amazon forthwith! The glasses you get at Crate & Barrel are of much better quality in my opinion. Has anyone else noticed this?

July 24, 2004 4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I definitely don't believe that the shape of a glass can "cause the wine to hit your tongue in such a way as to bring out the best in the wine," it has long been known that the shape of the glass dramatically affects the aromas of the wine. I've definitely experienced this myself and it's quite astonishing the first time you realize it. If you accept this as true, and if you also understand that most of what we taste is actually aroma (given that our tastebuds are just set up to perceive sour, sweet, bitter, salty, and umami) then it's pretty logical to assert that a glass can change your initial perception of the taste of a wine.

However, once you've got that gulp in your mouth and have swished it around a bit, the glass has nothing to do with how it tastes to you.

While Reidel is definitely overselling the necessity of their glasses (but what would YOU do if you were a glassmaker?) some of their varietal glasses actually really do highlight the features of that varietal's aroma in a way that others dont. Calling it a scam is a bit much.

Finally, lead crystal would have to be crushed or powdered in order for the lead to get in your system. Wine is simply not acidic enough to strip off lead from the crystal because the lead is molecularly bound up in the crystalline structure, rather than sitting on the surface in a glaze which is the danger with much pottery or ceramic. That being said, I don't believe that lead based crystal is superior to lead free when it comes to holding wine.

July 25, 2004 9:22 AM  
Blogger Huge said...

Agree that different glass shapes can influence the evaluation of the nose of a wine. A narrower opening will, of course, concentrate aroma. However, one does not require 27 different glasses to find an option with a narrower opening. Further, concentration of aroma does not necessarily lead to different perceptions of flavor on the tongue. I stand by my challenge - if you can pick out the Riedel ringer "blind" I will remove the word "scam" from my post.


July 26, 2004 8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think there are only two things I really care about in a wineglass: does it have a fairly big bowl to swirl the wine around (more surface area for the aromas to escape from), and does it have more of a tulip shape - preferably just big enough to get my whole nose inside.
I like the look of the Bordeaux "balloons", but they're pretty crappy to drink from as most of the aromas disperse before you can get to them.

After reading that article and those comments I asked a chemist friend of mine what she thought about leaded crystal.
She said she thought it's possible that lead in the crystal could "leach out" at the surface where the wine contacts the glassware, but that the lead inside the the glass wouldn't be available to get into the wine.
But she also said that if that's true then older leaded glasses would already have had the lead leached out, and would be safer(?).

I don't know, but I don't want any lead at all. And since leaded glassware costs more anyway, I think I'll be reaching for the safer/cheaper glassware.

Why'd people develop leaded glassware & decanters anyway - was it because it weighs more and therefore feels more substantial? Was it due to the cost (they could charge more), and the fact that the European Royal courts used them? If that's the case, you can count me out - I still remember my history classes & how the nobility in Europe essentially poisoned themselves with lead based face powders. Their teeth fell out & they developed some pretty serious problems with their nervous systems (and it may have contributed to the stereotype of the "eccentric upper class").

No thanks - only cheap unleaded peasant ware for me please.

July 30, 2004 3:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The shape of the glass is not intended to hit your tongue the right way. Taste is not in the tongue. The tongue is a very crude instrument only capable of sensing 5 or 6 different sensations - bitter, sweet, sour, etc. If you knew this...

The majority of of your sense of taste comes from your olfactory senses - your sense of smell. This has been known for some time and was recently affirmed by the Nobel committee awarding two scientists with the Nobel Prize for showing that humans can sense over 20-something thousand different smells or something to that effect.

Do the test between a regular red wine glass v. the appropriate Riedel glass. I do a blind taste test to friends and they're all amazed.

June 10, 2005 9:07 PM  
Blogger Huge said...

You are missing the point. I have never claimed that a narrow-mouth glass doesn't help aromas. My "beef" with Riedel is claims such as the following (taken directly from their website):

"wine flow is directed onto the appropriate taste zones of your palate and consequently leads to different taste pictures. "

You are correct, it is the nose that makes the difference (which is kind of the point). However, next time you're doing your blind tests, try the "appropriate" Riedel vs. the "wrong" Riedel and see if you can spot the difference blind.....

June 14, 2005 12:07 PM  

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