Sunday, August 24, 2008

Acclaimed Glass Maker Georg Riedel visits the Finger Lakes

Click on photographs to see larger view

The current patriarch of the acclaimed glass crafting and manufacturing company Riedel Glass, Georg Riedel (pronounced like "needle"), made a visit to the Finger Lakes area this week and I was fortunate to be invited to his seminar at Inn at Glenora. Many Thanks to the Cayuga Wine Trail and Finger Lakes Wine Country for inviting me and to Gene Pierce and Inn at Glenora for their hospitality.

The premise of the seminar was that the shape and size of a wine glass contributes to the aroma and taste profile of the wine in the glass and Mr. Riedel

was here to help Finger Lakes wineries deduce the perfect Riedel wine glass for Finger Lakes Riesling. Winery owners had attended an earlier session and had decided their preferences. The preferences of those of us at this evening session would be compared to the earlier session.

It was certainly an honor to be in the presence of glassware royalty. The Riedel family tradition of skilled glass craftsmanship extends back to the 1600's! The history of the company is a fascinating read as the Riedel family overcame the continuing obstacles of wars affecting their

homeland and stayed on the "cutting edge" of glassware advances. Click here to read more about the history of Riedel.

But our task at hand in this seminar was to detect the subtle changes that each of the 6 different Riedel wine glasses (and the obligatory plastic cup which gave no aromas) on our table brought to the same wine.

The charming and humorous Mr. Riedel opened the seminar with his impressions of the Finger Lakes region ("It's easier to find wine than gas here") and a short primer on wine tasting. Then
we got into the tastings. With the same Finger Lakes Riesling in each glass, we sniffed each glass first and noted the aromatic changes and then we tasted each glass and noted the taste differences for each glass. Riedel's theory, based on their many years of testing, is that different shapes and sizes of wine glasses direct the aromatic and flavor components of the wine to your tastebuds and olfactory senses in different ways and that wine glasses can be designed specifically to facilitate optimal tasting of the varietal characteristics of each wine. We did three rounds of tastings with three different Finger Lakes Rieslings.

There can be no doubt in my mind that there were different aromatic and taste profiles presented by each glass holding the same exact wine. And by hand vote of the seminar participants, there seemed to be a consensus that 2 of the glasses were preferable to the others, and this agreed with the winery owners' preferences in the earlier session. But I do not know if I can accept the premise that these differences are primarily attributable to the glass alone. Mr. Riedel advanced the concept that the width of the opening and height of the glass directs the flow of the wine into your mouth differently, thereby hitting different parts of your mouth at different times and bringing out more acidity for a certain glass or more softness for a certain glass, etc. But when I taste wine, I don't pour it directly into my mouth, but I hold my sip for all wines that I taste in the front part of my mouth while I "slurp" it against my lips to aerate it and then I swish it to all parts of my mouth. So that would seem to dismiss that theory in my mind. There is the possibility, though, that the shape and size of each glass is directing the vapors of the wine into my mouth differently and the vapors are directed to different parts of my mouth and olfactory senses at different times, thereby changing how I am perceiving the wine. And, as Mr. Riedel pointed out, human taste perception is 80 percent smell.

Another problem that I had was that Mr. Riedel gave us his own perceptions of how each glass affected the wines before most of us had a chance to develop our own perceptions, thereby influencing our own impressions by his suggestions. I do understand that Mr. Riedel's primary goal is to sell glassware and that this was certainly not a scientific undertaking by any means.

Overall, the seminar was very interesting and certainly raises the question of just how much influence the wine glass has on our sensory perceptions of the wine within it. In the home of Mrs. Wino and myself, we have a wide variety of glassware acquired from a variety of sources and now I have to wonder if the two of us and the guests that we pour wine for are each getting completely different impressions of the same wine. It's just another one of those things that makes you go Hmmmmm.

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