The Grapevine – What’s in a Glass?

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a stemware demonstration with Maximillian Riedel, the 11th generation family member representing the Riedel Wine Glass Company. Riedel has been making grape varietal specific wine glasses for 300 years, and I have been using their stemware for 20 years.

I have studied wine nearly my entire life but the 90 minutes I spent in the demonstration was by far but also the most compelling.  This demonstration truly stirred my wine soul.

Form versus function is a familiar term, and for the Riedel Company it is a combination of both.  When we open a bottle of wine to let it breathe, decant, or aerate the wine we are introducing oxygen which “opens up” the wine and brings out the aroma and flavor of the wine.

There are 2-3 elements of wine that create aroma and flavor.  The first element is the fruit, and the second is the yeast that is used to ferment the wine.  Fruit and yeast combine during fermentation to produce aroma and flavor or sense of taste.  The third influence upon the wine in your glass may be the oak barrel that the wine was aged in.  Some varietals of white wine are fermented and aged in steel; in this case there is no oak influence to the sense of taste or aroma.

Red wine and some varietals of white wine like Chardonnay spend more time in oak barrels.  Red wines in particular benefit from barrel aging. During fermentation red wines get their color from the skin of the grape. Tannin occurs as a result of grapes and their skins soaking together during the fermentation process.  Barrel aging allows the red wines to develop depth of color and refine or settle tannin which is the grittiness you experience when drinking a red wine.  Different varietals produce different amounts of tannin.  For example Pinot Noir will express less tannin than Cabernet Sauvignon.

Fruit, yeast and wood produce aroma, flavor, and tactile sensation when you drink wine.  Your palate can sense four different tastes – sweet, bitter, salty and sour.  The mouth can also “feel” cool, warm, dryness, tingling, a coating feeling, and a feeling of numbness.

Sweetness is perceived immediately when you taste a wine as this area is located right on the tip of your tongue.  Acidity in a wine is recognized in the cheek, on the sides of the tongue, which is the area that senses “sour” flavors, and also in the back of the throat.  Lighter red wines and white wines generally have a higher degree of acidity.

The middle of the tongue is the area that recognizes anything salty.  In the case of wine, this is where tannin, which is a tactile sensation, is felt.  When wines are young the tannins are what make a wine present as too dry.

Fruit and its individual varietal characteristics are smells not tastes.  But the weight of the wines fruit will be felt on the middle of your tongue.  This is why wines are referred to as light, medium, or full bodied.

The aftertaste, or finish of a wine is what happens when you actually swallow. In a good wine, this is a very pleasing sensation with all components of a wine coming together in harmony and balance.

So why is the glassware such an important companion to good wine?  The Riedel Company has designed a wine delivery system, the wine glass, which is varietal specific.  The Riedel wine glass presents the aroma and the taste of wine perfectly.  Form versus function is not so much a term that describes conflict but better describes the intersection of form and function united for a single purpose.  This is exactly what a Riedel wine glass delivers to our nose and our palate.  A varietal correct wine glass from the Riedel Company has the ability to make $10 wine taste like $100 wine.

The Riedel wine glasses reviewed today receive the WineGuyMike™ Seal of Approval™ and are available at Liquid Planet located in the heart of Downtown Missoula. For more information or Facebook at WineGuyMike.

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