Splendor in the Glass?

Some months ago, the organizer of a wine-tasting event was contacted by a prospective attendee. It sounded like a first-rate affair, the lady said. She had only one question: Could she bring her Riedels? If that word summons up an image of savage attack dogs straining at the leash, it just goes to show how far behind the cutting edge of wine fashion you are. "Riedels" are not relatives of Dobermans but wine glasses; though to hear their admirers, they are to ordinary wine glasses what a Maserati is to a Trabant—as a glass that costs $90 should be. Don't think you can get away with buying six or eight (one set for reds, another for whites). The Riedel company asserts that every single variety of grape deserves its own special 24-percent lead crystal vessel. The line now includes over 30 items, from gargantuan tulips suitable for great Bordeaux to a skinny little dandelion for sipping bitters. Riedelmania could be dismissed as another example of wretched millennial excess were it not for one thing: People—among them winemakers, surveyors, critics—accept the company's claims as gospel. Here is Robert M. Parker, possessor of the single most influential set of taste buds in the world, on the subject: "The finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes. . . . The effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference they make." It's hard to find a professional wine taster who disagrees. How do they make the difference? Riedel—there is a Riedel, the 10th generation by that name—has a ready answer. The relatively huge capacity of Riedel glasses, he says, allows aromatics to segregate in layers: heaviest (wood, alcohol) at the bottom of the glass, vegetable and mineral notes in the middle, flowers and fruit on top. A long, slow inhale sucks up each in turn, providing for more refined appreciation. Then, too, the glasses' openings are smallish, which, per the company brochure, "forces the head to position itself in such a way that you drink and do not spill. . . . Narrow rims roll the head backwards. . . . This delivers and positions the beverage to different zones of the palate." Scientists devoted to studying the physiology of taste offer a simpler reason wine tastes better in Riedels. A small amount of wine swirled in a big glass—Riedel recommends about three ounces a fill—will release aroma more amply than more wine in a smaller glass. A small mouth confines the aroma better than a wide mouth. The thin, "cut" rim feels more pleasant on the lip than a thick, rolled one. The Riedel clan, no fools, have capitalized on their winning "Sommelier" brand by introducing other lines. The "Basic" series has only three types of glass, and you needn't refinance your home to purchase them, let alone line a closet with velvet for storage. Now even you can own some Riedels. And they don't bark or shed.

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