We’ve been talking so much about the stuff you sip and the ground that produces it, we’ve neglected to discuss the vessel from which you imbibe. In some circles, the wine glass represents the epitome of wine snobbery – “You’re drinking Chablis from a Bordeaux glass?” You can just taste the contempt. Others figure that if it doesn’t leak, it qualifies to hold whatever is being poured.
I wanted to address this issue when I read Max Riedel’s comment about using the right glass for the right wine. For those who don’t recognize the name, Max and his father, Georg, are Austrian glassmakers whose surname graces one of the most distinguished and well-known wine glass houses in the world. Max was speaking recently to an audience at a Riedel tasting, in which different wines were sniffed and sipped from a variety of Riedel glasses crafted specifically for each. In explaining the need for many different glass designs to showcase the qualities of different wines, he said, “You cannot play a round of golf with just one club.”
Max, I’m here to tell you that you can, I have, and it’s quite fun. Actually, nothing is more satisfying than beating someone with nothing but one ball and a five iron. Especially when that someone did nothing but brag about their short game once they dropped a fortune on a new putter and a full complement of wedges for every situation. But I digress.
At its most basic, a wine glass should be wider at the bottom than at the top and of sufficient volume to allow its bouquet to fully develop. This is essentially the glass that awaits you when you sit down at any decent steakhouse. I will tell you that “sufficient volume” means 21 to 26 ounces. Does that mean you will pour the entire bottle (about 25 and a half ounces) in your glass? No. But a standard six ounce pour will settle nicely at the bottom and allow you plenty of room to swirl and sniff.
So is there something to the notion that wine should be enjoyed from the right glass? Well, yes. Kate and I did a private Riedel tasting at the Chateau St. Jean winery in Sonoma, where several different varietals were poured into specially-designed Riedel glasses. The fun of this tasting is to experiment with the joker glass at the end of the line. This is a very small glass into which you can pour the identical wine to compare aromas and flavors. The difference is striking, but the advantage all but disappears when comparing glass to glass across the standard line. The reason is that all of the specially-designed glasses have the same voluminous narrow-to-wide shape that enhances the wine’s characteristics.
For the record, Kate and I are particularly fond of Riedel’s Vinum Bordeaux-Cabernet glass. But I think you will enjoy a Chateau Magdelaine (red Bordeaux) from that glass as much as you will a Chateau de Puligny Montrachet (white Burgandy). We stick to a standard glass for our drinking pleasure. If you want to spend a fortune on an array of implements, more power to you. Just understand that it’s not necessary to enjoy a day on the course.