Friday, 6 July 2012

What's in a glass?

I love my drinking experiences, regardless if it's wine, coffee or tea, and the glass makes all the difference.  The wrong glass with a great wine can choke it in terms of diminishing it's bouquet, or splashing the wine to the wrong place on your tongue.  Why is this important?  For starters, the tongue location differs in terms of being  able to sense sweet, bitter, acidic tastes.  In general:
  • The tip of the tongue detects sweetness
  • The inner sides of the tongue detect sourness and / or acidity
  • The outer sides of the tongue detect saltiness
  • The back of the tongue detects bitterness and / or alcohol
I lifted this from a post in What's Cooking America on tasting wine, which provides a simple, yet very good overview on the topic.

It was about ten years ago when I walked into a bottle shop to pick up some decent Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz.  When checking out, I was approached by one of the bottle shop clerks to ask if I would like to sample some wines from different Riedel glasses.  My immediate reaction was "Leave me alone!  I am spending my money where it is most important - on the wine!"  He was quite confident that I would be able to discern a noticeable difference due to the glass, so I decided to take the challenge, if nothing else, just to prove him wrong!

I tried the Cabernet Sauvignon in the Shiraz glass and the Shiraz in the Cabernet Sauvignon glass and then switched them around.  My cursing was audible as I could definitely smell the difference and the enjoyment factor was enhanced when having the right wine being 'nosed' in the right glass.  Then I tasted each combination and was sold.  The reason for the cursing was that I knew I would be shelling about $400 for Riedel glasses (my first set of many!)  But make no mistake, for someone who loves their wine, you can tell the difference and it does enhance the drinking experience.  And aesthetically, the beauty of looking at and holding a perfectly balanced glass adds further to the pleasure!

For a great blog on what Riedel glass to drink with what wine, see the blog Confessions of a Wino by Alastair Bathgate The post provides very useful information on which range to select and what glasses within the range to select.  I agree entirely with  Confessions of a Wino's assessment that the best style to pick from is the Vinum.  I also agree with his basic selection glass types as being suitable to cover most wines in your cellar.  However, for me, with the amount of great Australian Shiraz I drink, I need to have the Riedel Vinum Shiraz glass also, and I have the Riedel Vintage Port glass for the occasional port when late night reading.  But Alistair is absolutely correct in that you can go overboard if not careful.  Each Riedel glass is between $25 and $40 in the Vinum range and higher for the Sommelier range.

Why does the shape of the glass make a difference?  The first reason is the shape (overall size of the globe and opening at the top) influences the concentration of bouquet as you 'nose' the wine.  This is an important initial part of the wine drinking pleasure.  And secondly, the shape and diameter of the globe and the tightness or wideness of the opening determines where the wine is most likely to end up on your tongue and in your mouth.  As mentioned above, this can have a huge impact on the tasting experience and what types of flavors you are experiencing.

I also have a set of the O Riedel glasses which are the same shape globes, but without the stems for easier transport.  I avoided getting these for a long time as I did not find stemless glasses to be aesthetically pleasing.  But after too many bad restaurant experiences (regardless if it was a BYO or not) which did not have proper wine glasses, I felt compelled to bring my own.  I am really glad I do now, but you need to be careful when picking up the Pinot Noir and Montrachet glasses as they are very wide and difficult to hold onto to, especially after a bit to drink!

But it is not just my wine drinking that is influenced by great glassware.  My coffee drinking also benefits from it.  There is one large difference though between wine and coffee for me.  I do not drink wine to get drunk.  I drink wine for the flavor and the manner in which it enhances an eating and social experience. While I also drink coffee for the taste and pleasure, I additionally drink it for the caffeine and 'perk-me-up!'  Therefore, I can really enjoy my first coffee of the day even if it is in a cardboard or Styrofoam cup!  Yet, if I am making it at home or work (which I usually do 95% of the time), I use glasses made by Nespresso Citiz.

The Nespresso Citiz glasses cost quite a bit.  The "Lungo" glass viewed to the right costs about $18.  The "Expresso" size is a little less and the "Latte" size a little more.  Yet, this is not much for something I use several times most days of the year!

The glasses are double insulated, keeping the coffee hot while protecting my hands from getting warm.  Additionally, the beauty of seeing the coffee parabolically shaped adds significantly to the aesthetic experience.

Bodum makes a line of see-through glassware similar to Citiz, and at about one-third the price, but they are not as nice in terms of balance and feeling when being held, and have a plainer design and etching.  Yet, they still provide a beautiful see-through experience and have double insulation.

My glassware is worth it in terms of enhancing my drinking experiences, and I would not do without!  If you plan to spend money on good wine and good coffee, spend a little extra on good glassware.  It is most definitely worth it!

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