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  • Do you need a separate glass for each wine?
  • Do you need a separate glass for each wine?
  • Do you need a separate glass for each wine?
1. From left to right, the Cabernet/Merlot glass, the Pinot Noir glass and the all-purpose 001. 2. Georg Riedel at the tasting. 3. Sheet and glasses for the professional wine tasting. Photo credits: Anna Harris-Noble and Abadía Retuerta.

Wine gadgets

Do you need a separate glass for each wine?

Anna Harris-Noble | September 23rd, 2016

This was the theme of the tasting hosted for sommeliers in Madrid by Georg Riedel on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Abadía Retuerta, showcasing the values of the new Riedel 001 all-purpose glass and the new calibrated varietal glasses for the on-trade using wines from the Ribera del Duero winery. The Austrian wine glass producers, Riedel –key proponents of the theory that there is a perfect glass for every wine– perhaps having realized that many restaurants, not to mention the public, have neither the money nor the space to store 10 different glasses, has launched one glass that works for red, white and even sparkling wine.

Many years in the making, the 001 certainly looks the part; a huge glass that you could fit an entire 75cl bottle in with space to spare.  But how did it stand up to the varietal glasses?  If you’ve never had the opportunity to taste the same wine in different shaped glasses you’ll probably believe, like I did, that this is pure marketing…that as long as a glass is relatively fine, with a tapered bowl to the rim and clean, it will do.  I was surprised to find that the impression, not only of aromas, but also of flavours, varied greatly between the various glasses.

Could a glass ruin your wine?

The first wine we tried was Abadía Retuerta’s white Le Domaine 2015, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Verdejo that has impressed me greatly on previous occasions. And in the Riesling glass it was delicious, with delicate floral hints, ripe tropical fruit and some elderberry on the nose. On the palate the acidity came through, with plenty of fruit balanced with a fine minerality and a long finish.  However, in the wide Pinot Noir glass this could have been another wine, flabby; with alcohol, yeast and green aromas becoming more prominent on the nose and the fruit and freshness almost completely lost. The Cabernet/Merlot glass fared slightly better but still lacked overall balance with the alcohol dominating on the finish.  And what of the “all-purpose” glass? I felt the wine was slightly more muted that in the ideal white wine glass, with more grassy notes and less tropical fruit coming through on the nose, but showed well on the palate, with balanced acidity, body and a long finish.  

The Drouhin Pinot Noir from Oregon behaved similarly  - with Georg stating that for him, this varietal is the most sensitive to glass shape of them all.  The ideal glass had a wide rounded bowl with a narrower rim, which as Georg explained, captures the aroma molecules and directs the wine low, to the front of the palate, allowing it to show its finesse: red fruit and floral hints on the nose, which touches of smoke, and a soft, rounded, velvety palate.  In the Cabernet/Merlot glass the same wine fell apart, losing much of its red fruit, showing more herbaceous notes and appearing tight, out of balance and short. The all-purpose glass again was the second best, allowing the red fruit to shine through, though perhaps lacking a little complexity on the palate. 

Abadía Retuerta Pago Valdebellón 2013 was the final wine: a Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 16 months in French oak.  In the words of Georg, we first “destroyed” this wonderfully concentrated wine by tasting it in the Pinot Noir glass. It seemed tight and muted on both the nose and palate, with tough tannins.  As Georg, with his characteristic flair for the dramatic, stated: “We’d say ‘This wine needs more age!’  Ha! But I’d say, it needs the right glass!”  

He was right; in the Cabernet/Merlot Glass the wine seemed softer, more approachable, rich with notes of both blackcurrant and forest fruits and hints of spice and roasted coffee. On the palate it displayed a perfect balance of ripe blackberry and red fruit, warm Christmas spices and a long, smooth finish with seductive tannins. Glass A performed well but the vegetal and coffee notes seemed more dominant than the fruit.  On the palate the balance was good but not perfect, the tannins just a little less elegant than in the “perfect” glass.

Experimenting at home

So, for wine professionals at least, it would seem that varietal glasses did perform best, with the all-purpose glass performing admirably well as a runner-up.  But what about the everyday consumer, would they discern a difference? We were allowed to take the glasses away so I performed an experiment at home to see which glass the non-professional (my husband) would prefer. 

Without telling him which glass was supposedly best, we tasted the Pardas Negre Franc 2011, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and a little Sumoll from the D.O. Penedès.  In theory, the Cabernet/Merlot glass should have been the optimum choice, and I did feel the wine showed more complexity in this glass – spice, toasted oak notes as well as dark fruit.  In the Pinot Noir glass, the green notes and pencil lead of the Cab Franc dominated too much for my taste, whereas the 001 showed off the most fruit, big gobs of cassis and blackcurrant pastilles.  And it was this glass that appealed most to my husband, aside from the “wow factor” of its size. Overall, he could see a difference between the glasses but he couldn’t say which one was best or worse, “They’re just different”, he said. 

So, as Georg pointed out, restaurateurs should certainly consider tasting each wine they serve in different glasses to find the right fit, but what does this mean for the wine lover at home?  Number one, it proves again that investing in good glassware is worthwhile  - that a fine crystal glass with a stem and tapered bowl will enhance your enjoyment of wine.  But buy the whole range of Riedel Varietal Stemware? While El Celler de Can Roca can serve every one of the 16 different wines paired with their “Festival” tasting menu in a different glass, at home a generic glass, or perhaps one for white and a larger red wine glass, will be more than enough.

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