By Mark Gauert
City & Shore Magazine
I will not drink just any wine, but I have drunk wine from almost any vessel.
Water tumblers. Beer mugs. The odd slipper. (Long story). Pour good wine into almost anything – except plastic, I draw the line at plastic! (long story) – and I’ll drink it.
That is until Maximilian Riedel ruined drinking wine for me from anything other than “varietal specific” stemware. “Whoever knows wine and loves wine obviously wants to unlock the wine at its best,” Riedel said over three varietals recently at The Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. “And I believe the glass is the key to flavor.”
He would say that, of course. (And not just because we were on our third glass.) Maximilian is the 11th-generation head of Riedel Crystal, makers of fine glassware in Austria since 1756.
Over two hours, we poured and compared the three wines – a 2015 Anderson Chardonnay, 2014 Pinot Noir and a 2016 Napanook Cabernet – in five of his family’s stemware and, possibly just to annoy me, one plastic cup. And I can confirm the Chardonnay tasted better in his Chardonnay glass ($22.50). The Pinot Noir tasted better in his Performance Optik Pinot Noir glass ($29.50). And the Cabernet tasted better in his new Winewings ($35) – a veritable bucket of a wine glass with a flat bottom and a top lip shaped like crystalline fromage oozing around the rim of a French onion soup bowl.
I can also confirm all three wines tasted bad in the plastic cup. (But you probably knew that was coming.)
“What we’re experiencing now is not really logical,’’ he conceded, smiling. But tasting was believing – he ruined the idea a good wine will taste as good in a tumbler, a mug or the odd slipper.
Later, perplexed by what I’d experienced that day, I asked Peg San Felippo, who has judged wine contests and writes our Quick Sips column, if I’d somehow fallen under Maximilian’s spell – or at least his powerful suggestion.
“Oh, this has been a topic among wine professionals forever,” she said. “It’s kind of like going to a winery and loving the experience and the wine until the wine arrives at your house and you don’t like it much at all.”
But, yes, there is something to the shape of the glass you drink wine from, she confirmed.
“Shape can enhance the aroma for sure, which is why red wines are normally served in a bowl shape with a wider rim opening to give it more room to open up,” she said. “White wines, which for the most part are meant to drink young, don’t normally need a lot of air to open up and sometimes too much air gives them muted characteristics.”
There’d been nothing muted about the wines we tried in their designated stemware that day – they’d all been good. So good I wondered, what would have happened if we’d poured a bad wine? Could his varietal stemware work magic and turn it into a good wine?
“No, we’re not responsible for miracles,” he laughed. “But we can get always the best, the most, of the wine.”
Varietal specific stemware from Riedel, www.riedel.com/en-us.
MAIN PHOTO: Maximilian Riedel / Photo by Mark Gauert; and his Chardonnay, Performance Optik Pinot Noir and Winewings glasses, inset / Photos courtesy Riedel