Never mind the wine, taste the glasses

Riedel ‘Flow’ pinot noir glass.

♦ THERE’S every chance that one of these days I’ll be found running amok in a kitchenware shop waving a hurley over my head.

Before they manage to get the net over me and bundle me into the van, I hope to have taken down entire displays of the wine world’s worst aberration — pointlessly overdesigned glasses that are ruining people’s experience of wine.  My first and most obvious target will of course be the coloured glasses…

“Glassware? Certainly.  Sir will be pouring wine, one of the most beautiful-looking items that will ever grace his dinner table. And so, sir is naturally compelled to disguise it behind gaudy coloured glass….”

Blue glass. Red glass. Patterns, swirls and stripes. And, most baffling of all, black glass.  It’s all nonsense. Wine comes in a gorgeous spectrum of colour from the faintest white gold of a light sauvignon blanc or vinho verde through to the opaque purple black of a big shiraz.  The translucent purple blue  of a Beaujolais; every hue of pink from a wan grey pinot gris to brazen lipstick;  port and viscous PX sherry the colour of Cuprinol. Crystal-clear glass with no patterns, etching or frosting is what you want to let those gorgeous colours shine.

Colour is of course only one dimension, and far worse crimes against your senses are being committed when you mess around with the ‘classic’ wine glass shape which plays a crucial role in coaxing out and framing the scent of a good wine.

Riedel “flow” Cabernet Sauvignon

In the Irish Examiner today I’m looking at glassware, and pictured here are the three red-wine glasses in one of the ranges I mention in that column — the Riedel ‘Flow’ range.  I bought them last week in my local TK Maxx at a very reasonable €14.99 a pair. I’ve checked with their PR people and the glasses are available nationwide in three shapes — cabernet, syrah and pinot noir. There are also variants optimised for white wines in the range but I wouldn’t bother fussing over too many specific glasses. The ones I got are not perfect (I don’t like the thick stems) but they are fine examples of wine glasses that work.

The classic wine glass proportions (generous in size, wide around the middle and tapering in towards the top) has evolved for good reasons. They present a large surface area of the liquid, allowing the interplay of air and the rapidly-evolving wine. But at the same time the tapered shape corrals and contains the winey air that contributes so much to the taste experience. (In brief – much of what we regard as taste is in fact smell: even when we aren’t actively sniffing, a lot of the action is happening in the nose – as sensors there capture the more volatile molecules carried in air).

Contrast the generous classic shape with the tiny tulip-shaped glasses pubs used to use. Filled to the brim (like beer glasses, their volume exactly equalled the standard measure) they killed stone dead the scent and therefore the flavour of wine — at least until you were three-quarters of the way down the glass.

Riedel ‘Flow’ range syrah glass

There’s one further criterion I’d suggest when you’re buying wine glasses – don’t get anything so pricey that you’re afraid to use them. The optimum glasses that present your wine at its very best are cheaper than many of the fancy-pants colourdey cocktail-bar models.

You can buy upmarket wine glasses that work perfectly with wine but cost around €90 a pair. Um, thanks but no.

You may imagine this is just me being mean, but I have road-tested the likes of those upmarket glasses. Plus, sceptical about my own responses to them, I have subjected posh glasses to the most sincere evaluation, informal blind taste tests. At various dinners plus one fundraising event I distributed €45 glasses unannounced among the €5 ones, and no-one detected any difference. The Riedel Flow above and the M&S Windsor model below are engineered to very similar standards but at such a price that you don’t mind too much if you drop one. Plus more money ends up in your pocket. Result.

Then there’s classic cut crystal glasses. They look gorgeous on the shelf but I’ve never seen one that works properly as a wine glass. Whiskey glasses? Sure. But the clunky, heavy and thick-rimmed cut crystal is inimical to glass of wine. Companies such as Waterford have remedied this in recent years, releasing wine glasses which emulate the upper tiers of Riedel and Schott. And just like them… They. Are. Too. Dear.

M&S Windsor Red Wine glasses

I occasionally trawl through kitchen shops to keep up to date with the best glassware, and that’s how I encountered those good value glasses at TK Maxx. But the top-level Windsor range at Marks & Spencer’s remains the outstanding wine glass.

If I were you, I’d walk swiftly past the coloured glasses that M&S stock, and I’d also ignore their entry-level wine glasses which are, at best, okay. Because for the sake of a couple of bucks more, the Windsor Red Wine Glasses (€20 for four) are the business. They’re also a brilliant present. Twenty smackers! Sure that’s nothing for a thing that looks so well. If I were kitting out a wine-lover’s kitchen from scratch, I’d get a supply of them, along with the Windsor Champagne flutes (€16 for four). Okay, I’ll put down the hurley and come quietly.  ♦

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6 Responses

  1. Well said, Blake. Death to coloured wine glasses – a thousand deaths!

    • To begin with I was LOLing at the hyperbole – like a mild version of “If”, that movie with the violent fantasy about machine gunning the school etc.
      But beginning to scare myself a bit now – shouting slogans and marching up and down brandishing the hurley is getting me a bit of a reputation in the neighbourhood…. Going to have to give it up. 🙂

  2. Blake,
    A breath of fresh air, reidel restaurant Sangiovese for me at €6 a pop. My heart breaks each and every time I break one of my fast diminishing sets of posh Austrian glassware.
    Incidentally my wife complains she can’t see across the table to the guests with the big versions, perhaps we just have very short friends.
    Stuart

    • Ha! Wonderful image. Interested in that riedel you refer to. Where can you buty that range and is that prive inclusive of VAT? B.

  3. that’s very interesting Blake. I really like the point about not being afraid to use the glasses.
    Probably my favourite glasses are my ISO tasting glasses.

    • The shape is of course the classic but don’t you find them too small? We are talking about the same thing aren’t we?
      I like glasses to be *waves hands* nearly as tall as a regular wine bottle… A gentleman is someone whose wine glass could accomodate an entire bottle but doesn’t. Or something like that.

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