Posts Tagged ‘red wine’

The box tinkled as I lifted it, catching the ear of the Riedel (pronounced “REED-uhl”) sales rep.  “That’s not good…”  No, it certainly was not good.  A hundred or so boxes later, the damage was totaled up.  Around 80% of the boxes containing 4 different Riedel wine glasses held at least 1 broken glass; generally the Chardonnay glass.  As we carefully separated out the broken glasses from those still intact, the presenter of the tasting session racked her brain to come up with Plan B.  The rest of us furiously, yet carefully wiped down the remaining glasses to a sparkle.  I, only utilizing nine fingers, successfully avoiding getting blood from the tenth on the glasses like a true professional.  It’d probably be more understandable if I had cut myself on one of the broken shards, but no, I had received a paper cut from one of the cardboard boxes.  Yet even with one glass down, the folks from Riedel made their pitch to a large group of conference goers as to why each varietal of wine deserves to be sipped from it’s own specialized glass.

Their reasoning behind having a multitude of glasses is this: each varietal has its own “signature” aromatic profile and they have designed glasses to highlight this.  Oddly, I had previously thought that they had just wanted to diversify their product line and increase sales.  To demonstrate, they pour out a single wine into it’s “appropriate” glass and then have you pour the wine into the other glasses to compare.  They also acquire a “joker” glass, in this case, the squatty wine glass the hotel’s banquet service utilizes to act as a control. Think of the wine glass you get at a wedding.

Halfway through the tasting (or smelling as it were) the sales rep asked if anyone was not convinced yet.  The lone enologist in the room raised her hand. Since I was assisting the event I merely whispered my support to her discreetly.  Truth is, I’m not convinced either.

There are a few things about their pitch that just don’t work for me.  First and foremost is that they pour a wine into it’s assigned glass and tell you that what you smell is exactly how that wine should smell.  After this, they tell you to pour the wine into another glass and point out how it’s different, which they then define as worse.  This is called Priming in the advertising/marketing world  and while effective, I wouldn’t call it the most honest.  Second, they compare their glasses against the worst glass possible.  Third, they only focus on aroma, which to me isn’t the whole picture when choosing your glass.

However, I wanted to give this experiment a fair test.  What would happen if I removed all of the factors that were designed to convince me that the Riedel glasses were not only superior, but variety/style specific ones were needed.  Naturally, I went home and set up another wine-related experiment.  Now, I have a wider variety of glasses than the average duck:

Bucking my habit of minimalism. Bucking my habit of minimalism.

From left to right: Flute purchased from Crate and Barrel, Riedel Sauvignon Blanc glass, Riedel Burgundy glass, Ikea wine glass ($2.99!),  Riedel Cabernet Franc glass, Red wide-bowled glass purchased from Crate and Barrel.

Unlike the Riedel experiment, I opened a bottle of Sonoma Zinfandel and poured the equivalent amount into each glass.  As I went down the line smelling them there were again differences, but I honestly couldn’t put a preference on which glass I would go with solely based on aroma.

Here’s the deal, when you pour wine into a glass, the aromatic compounds that eventually get to our nose get kicked up into the air of the glass.  Various compounds have different densities so they settle at different levels in the air inside the glass.  Your fruity esters will be up top and some of the more earthy aromas will settle more towards the bottom.  This density thing is generally why wine people swirl their glasses like pretentious pricks.  It mixes the compounds of different densities and puts them in the air above the liquid for your olfactory pleasure.  Think of it as an aroma emulsion.

Sommeliers across the world generally deal with three glasses.  A white wine glass which is taller than it is wide, a red wine glass that has a wider bowl than the white wine glass, and a glass for sparkling wine which is thin and tall.  According to standards committees (the ISO) the best glass for tasting is one that is half as wide as it is tall.   Regardless of which glass, the rim should always be a little more narrow than the bowl.  Those are the few specifications that the industry agrees that work.

What I have found is that the wider the bowl of the glass, the faster the volatile chemicals of the wine (the aromas) will dissipate.  For reds that seem “tight”, this is good.  More oxygen hits the wine which releases more parts of the aroma.  This is also why people want to decant wines, leave the bottle open for a few hours before serving, or put the wine in a blender.  Oxygen releases aroma.  BUT, the general trend for American wine drinkers is to be overwhelmed by the aromas.  Therefore, depending on how fast you drink your wine, you want a bowl with a size that matches your appetite for wine.  It should be noted that red wines contain a higher amount of polyphenols in them which are anti-oxidants so that’s why glasses for red wines have historically had wider bowls than for whites.  Therefore, your enjoyment of a tannic red wine might not be different when had in a white wine glass as long as you drank it over a period of a few hours. On the flip side, you might find that the aromas of most white wines diminish too quickly when served in an airy glass.

But back to Riedel. The aroma difference between the Riedel Cabernet Franc glass and my closest non-Riedel glass (The Ikea one) was close to nil.  The minimal differences in the shape of the glass really did not make a difference.  However, the Riedel sales guy left out a few factors which greatly add to the experience of drinking wine, that of the size (and direction) of the lip of the glass, the balance of the glass overall, and the quality of the glass.

Riedel Cab Franc (Left), Ikea (Right) Riedel Cab Franc (Left), Ikea (Right)

A thin lip that points up or slightly out is less obtrusive to putting wine into your mouth (bonus).  A balanced glass will let you roll the stem between your fingers as you gaze into its mystical depths (romantic bonus).  And there is a positive correlation between the quality of the glass and the quality of tone you get when you clink two glasses together gently and then put one up to each of your ears (musical bonus).  In other words, it adds to the experience overall.  Admittedly, the Ikea glass fails at the musicality aspect since it’s cheap glass and if I’m being honest, I’ll generally reach for the Riedel Cabernet Franc or Burgundy glass.  Why? Because they’re damn good quality glasses.  It really has nothing to do with their intent to be used with certain varieties or styles.

To end this post, I will leave you with what I think its the worst possible wine glass ever made.  I’m speaking about the globe glass, which you may find in  nearly every mid-scale Italian restaurant. It makes you feel like you’re drinking upside down when the glass is full and when it’s nearly empty you have to turn upside down, just to get the last few sips.

Great river-view patio. Worst wine glass ever. Great river-view patio. Worst wine glass ever.

So there you have it.  Now let me go find the next trendy Minneapolis cafe that feels the need to serve wine in tiny tumblers.

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TNS #2

Another example of how loquaciousness would get the best of me if I wrote tasting notes.

It was mid-morning by the time we set out on horseback with the smoke of the morning fire still tussling our clothes. Open plains were spreading before us, rising into the mountain range beyond as the sun began to beat down through the painted clouds that dotted the sky. The day wasn’t particularly hot though as the fall of the autumn leaves was approaching; just enough to warm your back and easily fight off the overnight chill. With the sizzle of a match, one of the caballeros lit a rich cigar. The aromas encapsulated my entire olfactory experience briefly before giving way to the more delicate scents of the dark fruited berries and wild thyme lining the path. In the dryness, the horses’ hooves kicked up the earth, casting a gritty and somewhat muted tone on our surroundings.

The group was quiet, as if contemplating the finer intricacies of life’s greater mysteries. Therefore, the only sounds to be had were that of our equine companions trotting along and the soft breeze rustling through trees. If I had been a simpler man, I may have let the rhythm of the journey lull me into a blissful sleep, but I have seen just enough of the world that my mind stayed on alert, casually scanning the horizons for anything with less-than-noble intentions. Fortunately, our band remained untroubled by any potential interlopers and my mind soon began drifting through the rich history of the land that lay before me. A certain nostalgia crept in, but lacking the bitter-sweetness of yearning for yesterdays gone by. Instead it was a feeling of completeness with the greater world. An emotion of being connected and impossible to describe with mere words any further. To do so would diminish the grandeur of the moment.

A great wine is one that not only connects you to a place, but to a moment. The rise of emotions, regardless of what they are, is the mark of a wine well crafted. This wine has achieved that in spades.

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Pictured: Rebellious youth. His mother is ashamed.

Recently, I was feeling particularly rebellious after listening to a somewhat inaccurate lecture on wine and food pairing.  In the wine world, there are a lot of traditions that just aren’t based on actual facts.  Most of them center around pairing wine with food and most of them attempt to tell you whether you’ll enjoy the experience or not.  This is like someone telling you that if you go to a NASCAR race you will enjoy it without checking to see if that is your particular cup of tea or not.  And if a tea metaphor is being used, NASCAR probably isn’t your thing, but I digress.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, when I’m feeling particularly rebellious, I do what anyone would do:  Sit down and set about proving whomever it is wrong, preferably while listening to some particularly loud music while wearing particularly unruly clothing and using a particularly #@!$ing uncouth vocabulary.  In other words, I sat down and paired a blended (Zin and Cab Sauv) red wine from Sonoma with a bunch of things that the “experts” tell you not to, just to see what really happens.  Admittedly, I’ve tried each of these combinations before which is why I was feeling rebellious, but never at the same time and never with writing utensil in hand.

The pairings were chosen based on the amount of times I’ve been told to never pair a red wine with them.  Citrus fruit (I only had a lime, but a lemon works too), Soy Sauce, Vinegar, and Salt.  For the vinegar and salt, I even selected two different types of each, just to cover all the bases.  Then I compared six aspects of wine between the control (just tasting the wine by its lonesome) and each pairing.  In this case, I’m using the terms “Fruit” to describe, well, the fruity flavors of a wine and “Bouquet” to describe the earthy, meaty, and generally not fruity characteristics.   And yes, of course I put it into a table:


Each one of these lowers the perception of tannin or astringency (that cotton ball feeling in your mouth).  This is the main reason why the wine world rejects the pairing of red wine with any of these components.  If you don’t mind the reduction in tannin though, or perhaps if you didn’t want it there in the first place, this practice makes perfect sense!  However, the trade-off with most of these is that they also reduce the perception of the fruit characteristics.  The two notable exceptions to this are the lime and the Kosher salt, which do a fine job of maintaining the fruit.

Other observations:

  • Soy sauce is the only pairing that will enhance the non-fruit characteristics, mainly due to umami (savoriness) matching with the umami in the wine.
  • Vinegar will increase the acid, no matter what kind it is.
  • Iodized table salt sucks.  It blows.  It’s the pits.

Side Rant:

Salt should take bitterness out of things; that is its role in food.  In this case though, it actually increased my perception of bitterness.  Now, it didn’t increase the amount of bitter compounds, but it didn’t mitigate bitterness in the amounts that I had it (finger-tip’s worth) while slightly reducing everything else, thus increasing the perception of bitterness.  I see why people feel the need to douse all of their meals with this stuff.  It doesn’t work in small quantities.  Hypertensive Americans should revolt against iodized salt…or just use Kosher salt instead.

P.S. The science world has actually proven that pairing a big Cabernet Sauvignon with a steak works because of the salt the seasons the steak and not because the tannins are latching on to the fat.  Read Molecular Gastronomy if you’re into geeky food science happenings.

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