What’s in a glass?
Ernest Hemingway described wine as ‘the most civilised thing in the world,’ but according to wine aficionados, the nuances of a fine wine disappear when the incorrect stemware is used. It’s a bit like paraphrasing the imagery in beautiful prose with a disappointingly pedestrian result.
A wine tasting at Creation Wines in Hermanus, hosted by Platters and Riedel – stemware manufacture of over 260 years – proved that much of bouquet, taste, balance and finish of a wine is affected by the shape of the glass.
Creation Wines situated in the Hemel and Aarde Valley stretching inland from Hermanus, is a blend of heaven and earth in the vinous valley and the perfect setting to savour award winning wines. It was started ten years ago when idealistic Swiss winemaker JC Martin and his wife Carolyn Martin, starting taming the valley and started their boutique winery.
It is one of South Africa’s most lauded wine estates and consistently garners awards and accolades. No less than seven wines have Robert Parker ratings of 90 points or more. It did no harm to be tasting these fine wines out of Riedel stemware.
In 2009 the wine estate paired with Riedel glasses in order for their wines to be ‘shown off properly.’ The Riedel family (who incidentally were responsible for introducing colour to traffic lights) introduced cultivar specific glasses – the first sommelier’s range.
The wine tasting included five different stems and four different wines glasses: Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet. The routine goes something like this… Wine tasters are asked to taste the wines in the appropriate stem and then move them around into the others. For example, Chardonnay goes in the Cabernet glass…Sauvignon Blanc into the Pinot glass.
From the ridiculous to the sublime
Our tasting started in a polystyrene cup – a firm favourite amongst students when the contents of the receptable are posing as a soft drink … Despite the Sauvignon Blanc being described as a superbly balanced wine beckoning with aromas of tropical fruit, elegant elderflower and interesting minerally whiffs –the lining of the cup gave the wine a distinct waxy aftertaste – and although not unpalatable, frankly it was not worth a second taste. The polystyrene cup was relegated to spittoon status immediately as we continued to taste. There was a ‘joker’ glass (your average wine glass), which did little for the different cultivars and of course the bespoke Riedel stemware.
The most obvious differences were in the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. A Chardonnay glass should be wide open to the nose and taste buds and there was a distinct moment of epiphany as we experienced the difference in the bouquet, the glorious layers, the fruitiness and the way the wine made an alliance with the taste buds in the wider Chardonnay glass. In fact the attractive glints of yellow and green in the Creation Straw were completely absent in the wrong glass.
Pinot Noir out of a Chardonnay glass was, quite frankly, undrinkable. It was one dimensional, had no creaminess and had a pronounced acidity. A Pinot Noir glass narrows towards the top. From the correct stemware we could experience the inviting bouquet of spice, the ‘smooth yet complex experience on the palate and layers of dried fruit mingle with hints of raspberry and piquant spice.’
While the large open bulb on the Chardonnay glass enables you to take in the complex and large varieties of aromas in a Chardonnay, the thin bulb of the Sauvignon Blanc/Riesling glass makes sure that the wine hits your tongue at centre and targets the right taste buds. The Pinot Noir and Cabernet glasses may have a larger bulb to make sure there is enough oxygen to open up the wine but not an overabundance. The correct shape and size is crucial to help release the appropriate fruitiness and tannin levels and direct the wine to the right part of the tongue.
Which is why Cognac snifters are traditionally balloon-shaped. So we thought. Michael Crossley of Riedel was emphatic about the Cognac snifter not being the only way for purists to sip their eaux-de-vie. “Hedonists might say yes, it’s a total onslaught of the senses, but he says, “It’s totally unnecessary. But if it gives you pleasure…” Hard to fault the concept of unnecessary and pleasure in the same sentence.
So, what’s in a glass? A great deal. According to Robert Parker, described by the Financial Times as the ‘world’s most prized palate,’ “the effect of these glasses on fine wine is profound. A glass that turns a sip into a celebration.”