Does the glass define the wine?

A slightly different wine tasting

For many, a glass of wine, sparkling wine or champagne goes hand in glove with a good meal or a pleasant evening in company. Rightly so, restaurateurs expend great effort in their selection of good wines. Customers are prepared to pay out a pretty penny for a glass or a bottle. So should this pleasure be compromised by the glassware used? Hardly! That's why we paid a visit to the ProWein trade show to attend a 'glass tasting' presented by the stemware manufacturer Riedel.


The Tyrolean family-owned company offers almost exclusively glasses for specific grape varieties and presented its new Sauvignon Blanc glass from its VERITAS series at the world's largest show devoted to wine. On the morning of our visit, this and two other wine glasses for white wines were presented to us. But a completely different selection process predates this wine tasting: In their quest for the perfect shape of goblet, Riedel served ten wine experts attending workshops from 20 different glasses, both in New Zealand and in the Austrian region of Styria. The results were crystal clear: It was the glass we were now standing in front of.

The arrangement is complemented by a Riesling glass and a glass for Chardonnay matured in a wooden cask. Given its round form, the latter is more reminiscent of a red wine glass. Firstly, a Sauvignon Blanc is savoured from all three glasses: first the odours, then the taste. It was to be presumed that there would be a difference. But that the difference would be so stark was surprising. The bouquet from the Sauvignon Blanc glass is much more intensive and nuanced than from the Riesling glass and even more so compared with the more voluminous Chardonnay glass. The same applies to the flavour: It is much more balanced in the Sauvignon Blanc glass and lingers longer on the palate. The next round was devoted to Riesling. The glass which brought the best out of the Sauvignon Blanc was less than convincing in this case. The aromas of ripe fruit such as apples, pears and pineapple come significantly better to the fore in the varietal glass. In the third round, we turned our attention to Chardonnay matured in wooden barriques. In this case, the bulbous Chardonnay glass excelled. The fine fusion of aromas is given considerably more expression in this glass than in the two narrower glasses. A glance into the faces of the others present confirmed that we were not alone in our surprise. A cellarmaster who had brought along his own wine said outright: 'I am surprised just how big an influence the glass has. I will pay greater attention to this aspect in future'. Also a representative of a German wine-growing cooperative was impressed: 'At large-scale wine tastings and for everyday use, we tend to use standard glasses for logistical reasons, but on  special occasions or for specific customers, we use varietal glasses for the enhanced sensory experience'.

But why is the effect so great? Our host Christian Kraus, Managing Director of Riedel Deutschland, explains: 'A wine's bouquet is a whole gamut of molecules which, depending on the aroma, have different lengths and weights. Our glasses have the job of layering these in such a way as to correspond to the variety of grape'. Aromas in the glass are condensed into a droplet-shaped cloud. The form of the goblet determines whether and where the nose enters the glass, thereby defining intensity levels and the aroma first perceived. Similarly, perception is also shaped by the form of the goblet. In the case of a narrow glass, the wine-taster is forced to stretch the head backwards slightly. This change of angle results in the wine contacting the tongue in a particular location first. These receptor cells are the first to transmit information to the brain and hence determine our sensory experience. The diameter of the glass also impacts the way wine is drunk. When drinking from glasses with small or medium diameters, drinks are poured into the mouth. When the diameter is larger, the tendency is to draw in the wine so as to avoid spillages. In the case of sparkling wine, for example, this results in the release of more carbon dioxide which superimposes itself on the aroma. Likewise, the shape of the rim also has a noticeable impact. A rim shaped to point outwards slightly causes the tip of the tongue to be raised when drinking – causing the wine to first contact the area which responds to sweetness.

How do we perceive wine?

When it comes to wine, there are 4 sensations:

1. Fragrance

The wine aroma, its quality and intensity

2. Texture

The mouthfeel of a wine (watery, soft, silky, velvety)

3. Taste

A combination of the four components of fruit, minerality, acidity and bitterness

4. Enduring taste

The aftertaste

Interview with Christian Kraus

After the tasting we were able to discuss the philosophy behind varietal wine glasses with our host Christian Kraus.

The glass as a tool

welcome & stay: Today's glass tasting offered a surprising approach to the appreciation of wine. But what do varietal glasses offer me as a restaurateur?

Christian Kraus: We are always pleased when we achieve this effect. We have made it our task to promote glass culture. Particularly in restaurants, good wine plays a key role. Riedel sees offering the right type of glass as a service to customers. Customers can bank on getting the best return on their investment.

welcome & stay: You offer different glasses for a wide range of grape varieties and classifications – and in some cases even for various growing areas. As a restaurateur, do I now have to stock numerous different glasses?

Christian Kraus: No. In compiling their wine lists, many restaurants like to specialise in a particular region. This automatically restricts the selection of wines – and the number of matching glasses.

welcome & stay: Nevertheless, the enjoyment of wine is always going to be subjective. So how do you go about things?

Christian Kraus: We see our glasses as tools and invest considerable energy in their development in order to achieve the best possible results. At the end of the day, it is personal taste which defines the glass I select for my wines. If a winegrower says a wine tastes the way they want to present it better when drunk from another glass, we have no objections whatsoever. What is important to us is to increase awareness for glasses as an integral part of the enjoyment of wine.

welcome & stay: What about the care?

Christian Kraus: (laughs): For that, we recommend Miele.

Further information:

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This article is part of our magazine "Welcome & Stay". You are welcome to download it. You can find this article on page 12-15.

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