The Wine Glass Matters (More Than You Think)


Did you know that the shape of the wine glass you use – and the design of its lip – can profoundly impact your wine-drinking experience? Hard to believe, I know, but I became thoroughly convinced of this fact after attending a very interesting and educational event.

On Tuesday, the Austrian-based Riedel company, crafters of internationally-renowned wine glasses, held a seminar at the Elks Tower in downtown Sacramento. Young, nattily-garbed scion Maximilian Riedel opened the event by detailing the art and science behind the company’s custom-designed glasses, all inspired by Riedel’s motto “the content commands the shape.” Each Riedel glass has a different bowl shape and size, and different style of rim – and all are designed to showcase the distinct glories of a particular varietal wine.

Each grape varietal is different, Riedel pointed out. Therefore, some wines are fruitier than others, some are more acidic, others have higher alcohol, milder or greater “minerality,” or an abundance (or lack) of tannins. In order for consumers to optimally enjoy a particular wine, he explained, it must be delivered to the palate – by the glass – in the correct “flow pattern” to the correspondingly optimal sections of the tongue (tip, sides, center and back) that detect sweetness, bitterness, sourness and saltiness.

Simply put, if the wine is delivered correctly to the palate (via the “right” wine glass), it should taste great; if it’s delivered by the “wrong” glass, it will taste yucky. This proved to be true during the seminar.

We sampled four wines (Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Cabernet sauvignon) in Riedel glasses designed specifically for those varietals, appreciatively snuffling their fragrance (“It’s like a perfume,” exclaimed Riedel of the Riesling – “you want to wear it on your skin!”) and savoring their complex, delicious flavors. We then sampled the same wines from the “wrong” glasses. They tasted yucky. The silky Chardonnay, when sipped from its custom-designed glass, burst with ripe, lush aromas and flavors of apples, pears and tropical fruit. The wine was transformed, however, when sampled from a Riesling glass – suddenly, we were assaulted by an alcoholic “heat” in the nose after swirling the wine, and the gorgeous aromas were gone – the wine was very dry on the palate and elicited unpleasant descriptors from Riedel and the audience such as “short,” “rough” and “bitter”.  It was hard to believe that the same wine could taste so different coming from two different glasses, but the proof was on my palate.

The downside of attending this unique event, of course, is that my wine glass inventory at home (they’re all one shape and size) now seems pathetic and troublesome – and I wonder what great wine flavors I may have missed in the past few years as I blithely utilized the wrong-shaped glasses. But now I know what to ask Santa for Christmas this year.