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On Tasting
Drinking From Special Wine Glasses
Thursday, 4th August, 2005  - David Farmer

The ritual of drinking wine is often part of its pleasure; the special corkscrews needed to pull out old corks, the range of decanters for aerating the wine, and a variety of glass shapes for serving the wine. This ritual can indeed affect your view of the taste of the wine as the mind can play all sorts of tricks. For some time I have been bemused at the extravagant claims that have been put forward by glass makers as to how much certain shapes enhance the quality, both the aroma and the palate, of the wine being drunk.

A few years ago I was found with my snout in the trough at an expensive Sydney restaurant listening to Lisa McGuigan tell us about her new range of Tempus Two wines. It’s hard to attract liquor people to attend any function in Sydney so two free Riedel glasses were the inducement.

After Ms McGuigan launched her products the P.R. representative of Riedel rose and told us how each shape of the Riedel glass is uniquely made to concentrate the aroma and taste of the relevant grape variety. Indeed so much research has gone into this that as you drink wine, from for example the ‘chardonnay’ glass, it is designed to spread over that part of the tongue that is most receptive to the taste of chardonnay. We were then told about the taste divisions on the tongue, such as the tip being sensitive to sugar and the edges to saltiness or what have you. Except none of this is true as all of the tongues taste receptors can respond to all stimuli, sour, bitter, sweet etc., although the density of receptors varies over the surface of the tongue. I wandered over to explain this but had little impact; why have a good story spoilt?

I have been telling people for years that the best tasting glass is a gold fish bowl and fancy French restaurants have for fifty years produced outsize glasses, close to that shape, if the sommelier believes your order justifies you being pampered, with an eye of course on his tip. So I do agree that a large glass traps more of the aroma because it makes common sense and works in practise but I do not believe that it has any effect on the taste at all. If you inhale as you sip as many of us do well that is another thing again as an impression of taste will come from aroma receptors.

Many wine drinkers have never learnt to taste, and sip or tip the wine down in one quick motion. If the wine is worth it, roll it around for awhile and bring it out in front of the teeth and then the tastes will blossom. Remember though that saliva is altering the taste as well and all of this will have a vastly greater impact than any glass shape can possibly have.

As for matching the shapes of the glasses to particular wine varieties, well if you believe that you will believe anything. The Riedel example is one of the great marketing stunts of all time and I love great marketing. Still if you are a believer so be it. Remember though you can get good approximations of these expensive glasses at discount shops and you no longer have to wince when they shatter.

I have managed to contain my scepticism on this topic for years then the other day I came across the new Riedel sake glass called the Daiginjo and it all came boiling out. This is apparently in honour of a revered sake with an aromatic nature that is much appreciated and Riedel tell us that ‘the content determines the shape’. What happened to small earthenware and ceramic cups? It wouldn’t have anything to do with a wealthy Japanese consumer would it? And no, I did not take my free Riedel glasses home but another diner gratefully accepted them

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