Does Glassware Truly Matter?

There are many elements that go into the “proper” enjoyment of a wine. From the wine’s temperature to the food paired with it, these factors can and often do alter consumers’ experiences and perceptions of the wine they are drinking. Studies have even shown that the type of music playing in a restaurant or retail shop can affect the choices consumers make in both the selection and enjoyment of a wine.  

Yet with so many elements competing to influence the enjoyment of an already complex beverage, it begs the question: how important is the glass from which the wine is consumed?

Experts argue that both the quality and shape of the glass are essential components required to properly enjoy a wine. Bordeaux style glasses are claimed to be the best glasses suited to enjoy heavier bodied wines as the tighter shape of the rim of the glass serves to concentrate aromas and directs the wine onto the palate.  

Burgundy glasses, or glasses with wider bowls with a more funneled rim, are allegedly better suited for lighter bodied, more aromatic wines. The glass shape traps the wine’s bouquet within the glass and allows for a better appreciation of some of the more subtle aromas. The larger bowl is also a practical consideration as it allows for easier swirling which in turn exposes the wine to more air, allowing the wine to present a full range of aromas.  

300 Years of Quality:

Perhaps the most vocal advocate of the necessity for proper glassware is the powerhouse Austrian crystal producer Riedel. With a 300 year history of glass production, in the 1950’s, 9th generation glassmaker Claus Riedel contended that utilizing proper glassware can actually improve the wine being consumed and developed a line of glasses designed for different varieties.  

Today, the Riedel brand has come to stand for the finest quality of wine glassware and Riedel currently sells an assortment of wine glasses designed specifically for varietal wines. There’s no longer just glasses for white wines and reds, nor merely Bordeaux glasses and Burgundy, but options for Oregon Pinot Noirs, Gruner Veltliner and Grand Cru Riesling.  

And Riedel glasses are not just reserved for wine.  The company offers a wide selection of glasses for a variety of beverages including different styles of beer, sherry, tequila and a host of other spirits.  

Just this year, Riedel rolled out their brand new glasses designed specifically for Coca Cola.  Designed around the original contours of the first Coca Cola bottles, the glasses promise to “enhance the flavors and aromas of America’s favorite beverage” by channeling “the soda’s effervescence in a way that reveals its notes of citrus and caramel, creating the most pleasurable sipping sensation in a way never before enjoyed.”

Testing the Theory:

So is Riedel’s expansion into the soft drink arena an innovation, marking the next step towards the heightened enjoyment of non-alcoholic beverages? Or has the glassware hype within the food and wine industry gotten a bit out of hand?

This question was put to the test one evening during a blind tasting with a mixed group of both wine novices and industry experts. The group was given the same wine in an assortment of glasses and asked to provide some brief tasting notes and an overall quality judgment of the wine with a 1-10 score.

The wine poured was a lighter bodied, but incredibly aromatic red which would be more sensitive to changes in glass shape than a larger, more robust fruit-driven red.

So what was discovered?

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Amongst both the pros and the novices, the consensus was a favoring of the wine poured in the thin rimmed and elegant style wine glasses over the thicker rimmed, clunkier options. Nearly everyone within the group offered incredibly detailed descriptors of this wine, identifying a host of flavor families including floral aromas, red and black fruits, and a variety of spices to describe the wine. The same wine poured in the water tumbler ranked the lowest of the night, with scores in the 5-6’s and simplistic tasting notes focusing primarily on fruit aromas.  

Later in the evening, when two different wines were poured in identical glasses, the crowd was much more divided and a consensus could not be reached over the “better” of the two options.  

While this fun experiment was not entirely scientific, the results did seem to suggest that while glassware may not necessarily impact all wines, it can significantly alter our experience of it.

And how one is feeling when drinking seems to be a largely overlooked factor in the evaluation of the elements affecting wine enjoyment and is arguably one of the most important.   

Today, in the post-white-table-cloth era, restaurants have been simultaneously rejecting all things once associated with fine dining in favor of crafting an anti-establishment ambiance. Intimate, secluded tables have been discarded in favor of communal seating. Quiet background music has been replaced with the blasting of the Beastie Boys and Led Zeppelin. And classic glassware has been replaced with mason jars and other simple, stem-less options. 

Yet before we decry the abandonment of traditional glassware, we should look at how each element a restaurant employs works to construct the entire dining experience.  And if the change in glassware is any indicator, then for many restaurants, the analysis of the subtle nuances of a wine is no longer as prized as the simple enjoyment of the beverage. And really, what can be wrong with that?