21 Sep 2012

Riedel Wine-tasting at Lords: The Glass Changes Everything.......

Who knew? The shape of a wine-glass can dramatically affect the taste of wine. I knew that the glass could add to the appreciation of wine, but had no idea it actually changed the smell and taste. This all changed last night when I attended a wine-tasting event at Lord's Cricket Ground, hosted by Georg Riedel, of the wonderful (and pricey) Riedel glasses fame.
I've only ever been to small wine-tasting events before, all pretty informal, standing around trying bits and pieces. This, however, was a completely different experience. The Nursery was set up with a small stage on which Mr Riedel stood, surrounded by rows of tables, facing inwards.

We were assigned seats and were greeted with three (enormous and differently-shaped) empty glasses, three plastic cups containing red wine, a bottle of water, a plastic spitoon (unused all night!), a couple of boxes with "please do not eat" written on them and an empty wine-glass box.

The first activity of the evening was to try the bottled mineral water, first straight from the bottle, and then from each of the glasses, to see and feel the experience of the water hitting the different parts of the tongue. Quite extraordinary - I'd never have thought that the shape of a glass could have an impact on the enjoyment of a glass of water! Glass 1 was a Pinot Noir glass, and the water hit the front of the tongue. Glass 2 was a Syrah glass, and the water flowed around the mouth pretty well. Glass 3, the biggest, was a Cabernet glass, and the water hit the back of the tongue.
After the water exercise it was on to the wine. We split the first plastic-cupful of wine (served at between 16 and 18 degrees celsius, not "room temperature") between the three glasses to experience the difference in smell and taste of the wines in each glass. First we swilled the Pinot Noir around in the Pinot Noir glass and had a good sniff. "Automatically swilling the wine is not the sign of an alcoholic," Georg reassured us. He had a rather surreal, dry sense of humour. The wine smelled wonderful, with a mix of aromas. Then it was swilled in the Syrah glass - not a bad aroma, but something was definitely missing. Finally we swilled it around the Cabernet glass and the smell was "all the awful green bits."

Obviously we then tasted the wine out of each glass and the taste matched the aromas - delicious out of Glass 1, okay in Glass 2 and rather unpleasant and acidic in Glass 3.
At this point we were allowed to eat the contents of one of the boxes too - some smooth Lindt white chocolate. The Pinot Noir brought out the vanilla flavour in the chocolate and the wine. Pairing the chocolate with the wine in the Cabernet glass did nothing for either, as expected.
This process was repeated for each wine, trying first the smell and then the taste in each of the glasses, understanding that the shape and size of the glass releases the different aromas and flavours of each wine. The Cabernet was the only wine that tasted half-decent in the Cabernet glass. Glass 2, Riedel told us, was an acceptable glass for most wines, but Glass 3 should only be used with the Merlots, Cabernet Francs and Cabernet Sauvignons of this world. We paired the Cabernet with the contents of the other box - a cocoa-rich slab of dark Lindt chocolate - a very fine match.

Riedel entertained the audience, all of us following his instructions of when to sniff, when to eat, when to drink ("don't drink yet!" he shouted a couple of times as he saw the glasses touching a couple of people's lips a fraction too early). Some might have been put off by his Austrian manner, but I found it added to the enjoyment of the evening immensely.
In addition to trying the wines and his explanations of the glasses, he also told us about decanting. Young wines (up to 10 years old, approximately) should be decanted and aerated. He produced a massive decanter with a long neck and poured a bottle of "young" wine into it. He then held the base of the decanter at the bottom of the neck and began shaking it. The action, and the shadows it created behind on the red wall, were a little phallic, as my friends on either side noticed, tittering at the sight. He then moved his microphone into the opening at the top of the decanter's neck so that we could all hear the wine crackling away. He suggested also shaking wine in a restaurant (not to mention complaining about the wine-glass shape and size) by putting your (clean) finger in the top of the bottle and giving it a good shake.
Obviously the sommelier might look a little aghast, but I'm sure if you said "Georg Riedel recommended it to improve my enjoyment of the wine" then the sommelier couldn't really complain. Besides, as he pointed out, you're paying for the wine (and therefore his wages).

At the end of the talk the man himself offered the decanted wine to a few willing participants, and came over to our table to do the honours, so I was able to get a closer look at this amusing man, and capture the looks of awe at drinking wine specially shaken by this man on the faces of some of the guests.
The glasses we'd been using were now ours to take home in carry-cases - a rather grown-up going-home present (which certainly made the cost of the event more palatable). Our Riedel collection has now increased from 2 (we did have 4, but they are extremely easy to break, without the right care) to 8. And now we have a good selection out of which to enjoy different kinds of wine. We recently had a Pinot Noir recommended by our local vintner, but it tasted rather ordinary. Now I know why - we were drinking out of Bordeaux glasses, not Pinot Noir ones. Tonight we're trying the Pinot again - only this time out of the right glass.


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