Monday, December 21, 2009
—just did the following translation of stern magazine's article about the great wineglass taste-off for the folks at Zalto...
Clink! Georg Riedel can convince his customers. Bowing ever so slightly, he looks his guest straight in the eye, smiles revealing a couple of teeth, and touches his glass to the other. Cheers—Clink!
Change of scene: your own kitchen. Crick! Dry and harsh. This is the sound one fears. Another glass for the dustbin, the bowl twisted off the stem whilst drying. Usually one’s own fault, for not paying attention. Or do we blame the glass? Too fine, too fragile? And in the end is it worth it, the purchase and the price? Is it not just our imagination, that the flavour is better?
Georg Riedel creates wine glasses, perhaps the best of all. His work has been so successful that one either knows—or else at least has heard—that wine tastes better out of expensive glasses than it does out of the normal sort—say, the ones from IKEA. Riedel understands the customer’s anxiety over breakage, as he does their fear of being taken in by an expensive illusion. But he can answer those questions handily—he’s well-rehearsed.
To begin with, he eagerly demonstrates the resiliency of his glasses—he pours Burgundy into balloons—you could say they’re evocative of Brigitte Nielsen, long legged and voluminous. Scarcely have you picked up your stem to toast, he’s brought his glass against yours. Clink? That’s an understatement for these Burgundy-bells. GONNNNGG! is more like it… and not just GONNNNGG, but then the sound reverberates! And the glasses? They remain intact.
Okay, point made. Good first impression.
Now for the aromas and the flavour:
Riedel pours Champagne into a slender Champagne flute and pours the rest of the bottle—Brigitte is still there—into the emptied Burgundy-balloons. Compare them, please—Hmmm… smells like two different wines, tastes like different wines. Just a sec, says the guest, there must be a bit of Burgundy left in that glass from the previous flight...
Patience, says Mr Riedel. He pours the contents of the champagne glass into the burgundy-balloon. Swirls the wine about. Pours half of it back into the champagne glass. Let’s compare them again. Still smells, still tastes like two distinct wines. And that’s not the worst of it: The Champagne tastes better out of the Burgundy glass. The guest asks, And that’s going to spell the end for the Champagne flute? Riedel answers, Yes.
We found this rather impressive, so stern set to work, to carefully and systematically investigate the wineglass question. We invited the ten most important glass-works to a blind tasting, and asked them to send what they considered to be their best glasses for three wines—Riesling, Burgundy and Bordeaux. Hundreds of cartons had to be received and stored, 600 delicate glasses must be individually unpacked and unwrapped, then rinsed by hand, dried by hand and placed at the ready—and then after the tasting once again washed, dried, wrapped, packed and sent back to the glassworks. An endless amount of work, that was.
Work, that is, in service of you, the reader. Who can now feel sure of the answer to the following question: If the finer glasses are adequately sturdy, and can influence the flavour of a wine to such a degree, then is it worth the expense to buy them? And which ones to buy? Are all glasses created equal? Is hand-blown better than factory-made? And more importantly, can the untrained palate of the consumer distinguish the difference? This is a lot of money—a glass can cost as much as 55€.
All the major glassworks participated. They provided the jury of professionals and flew their directors in at their own expense, from Stockholm (Orrefors), Vienna (Lobmeyer and Zalto), and Munich (Riedel and Zwiesel). These glassworks specialists were complemented by ten experienced sommeliers to form the professional jury. Additionally, to represent the reader, stern invited 20 participants from magazine’s series Wine School—these individuals made up the consumer panel. The juries tasted separately from one another overseen by an eminent judge, a wine enthusiast who took a day’s holiday to participate.
In order to eliminate any influence of the glass’s physical form, making certain that only nose and mouth informed their opinion, the forty jurors wore blindfolds. And gloves, which made it difficult for the glassworks’ directors to recognise their own handiwork by the feel of its stem. In each flight the panellists had ten glasses in front of them, filled with the same wine. For white wine, it was a Riesling, 2005 Geheimrat J Spätlese Trocken from the estate of Geheimrat J. Wegeler. For the category of lighter aromatic red wines, the tasters were given a 2007 Spätburgunder Blauschiefer from the estate Mayer-Näkel in the Ahr valley. And for the group of full-bodied red wines, a 1997 Château de Pez, Crus Bourgeois from St.-Estephe was poured.
The jury considered which glass presented the wine best and most faithfully to its type—in the nose, on the tongue and on the palate. Additionally, they evaluated the glasses according to which felt the most agreeable in the hand, which was the best-balanced, and which provided the most effective contact with the taster’s lip. So that the tasters could find the stems without mishap, the glasses were served on a slotted cardboard surface, each one securely placed.
For each style of wine, each juror awarded twelve points in the category Aroma and Taste: five points for the winning glass, three for second place, and two to the third. For balance, manageability and mouth-feel, two points were given.
The wines tasted markedly different out of different glasses. The choice of glass significantly determines how the wine presents itself. For the consumer panel as well, these differences were clearly perceptible. It’s confirmed: if you drink a fine wine out of a clunky glass—or out of a plastic cup—you waste much of the pleasure. But beware of assuming the opposite: Plonk that costs 2 Euros per bottle will not taste better out of a hand-blown glass; rather to the contrary, any weakness and flaw of a mass-produced wine comes to the fore.
There’s no such thing as the all-purpose glass. Certainly there are glasses that do well with several different styles of wine, which do offer a sort of lowest common denominator: glasses that combine a medium sized bowl with a tall tulip-shape and a relatively small opening.
And how about the ideal glass?
● no patterns and no colour
● large volume, to facilitate swirling
● light weight
● fine balance
● long stem
● thin walls
● no lip
Wine tastes better out of hand-blown glasses than it does out of machine made glasses. The professional jury inclined to make an exception for machine-made Bordeaux glasses, which they preferred to hand-blown examples. According to their evaluation, these felt better in the hand, more comfortable on the lip and imparted a more elegant tone to the wine. And even though the consumer panel gave first place in every category to a hand-blown glass, they gave good marks to the machine-made examples in the subsequent places. This jury preferred the heavier and sturdier glasses—particularly light and elegant stems were scored more reticently.
When one tallies up the points from professionals and consumers, Zalto, Zwiesel and Orrefors take the top spots. In one instance Stölzle worked its way into third place. Except for the glass from Stölzle (5,50€) these glasses are hand-made, delicate and relatively expensive (at 30€ or more). And if one considers the relationship of price to achievement, Stölzle comes out ahead. With noteworthy scores in every category, priced under seven Euros, they are the most affordable, followed by Leonardo and Riedel. Here hand-blown glasses—except for the comparitively inexpensive entry from Zalto—bring up the rear.
And not every grape variety needs its own glass, but every type of wine does—Burgundy, Bordeaux, white wine. The investment in glasses is worth it, more so as the price-difference even among hand-blown glasses is considerable. After the tasting, the chiefs of the glassworks returned home in a very reflective mood. And they’re seeing the results here in this issue for the first time, just like the reader.
But immediately after the tasting, one thing had become clear to market leader Georg Riedel: The competition is most certainly hot on our heels!