Monday, August 13, 2007

A class on glasses

12 Aug 2007, ST

By Jeremy Oliver

IN THIS fortnightly column, wine commentator Jeremy Oliver sheds light on the wide world of wine. He is the author of the best-selling Australian Wine Annual, and runs his website

Q I notice that the wine glasses used in restaurants come in different forms and shapes. Is there an ISO standard to conform to or is Riedel the benchmark to follow?

>A There is indeed an ISO wine glass shape, which is most commonly seen in the guise of the ISO tasting glass, formerly known as the XL5. As far as I am aware, the only quality glass manufacturer that produces this shape in a variety of sizes is Zerruti, which does so with a lead-free crystal glass.

Just as we see with the extraordinary array of bottle shapes and sizes, some of which take wine-upmanship just that little too far and too heavy, the wine glass represents an endless source of fascination for the product designer. Here are a few stray thoughts on the subject.

The bigger the glass, the better the taste:

It's hard to refute this since in most cases, provided the shape is aligned to the style of wine, the larger glass provides a larger surface area for evaporation of flavour, a more voluminous bowl for the capture of those aromas and a heightened feeling of contentment just because bigger glasses are more fun.

However, this concept doesn't work as well for the more alcoholic dry whites and reds because they simply exacerbate the hot and spirity nature of alcohol itself.

The large brandy balloon demonstrates this perfectly. It's an abomination of a glass that accentuates the effect of the alcohol at the expense of the actual flavour of the spirit. Brandy should best be drunk out of a glass that closely resembles a small ISO shape. And, by the way, for the same reason, it should never be heated prior to service.

# The finer the glass, the more precious the experience:

This is another easy one to prove. Without pretending to know the science that explains it, there is something heightened about the sensory effect provided by a fine glass. It feels better when put to the lips and it simply feels better when it is delivered into your mouth over a fine edge. Why? I haven't a clue.

Some glass makers talk about the design of the glass they create for a particular wine being able to deliver the wine precisely onto the right part of the tongue to suit the style in question, but this would require a mix of magic and science that I just don't yet believe in.

There is, however, a powerful synergy between the glass shapes that have historically evolved in European wine regions and the wines they produce. The taller tulip shape of Bordeaux suits the more restrained, layered nature of its wines, while the rounder bowl of the Burgundy shape exacerbates the heady nature of pinot noir and helps accentuate the shier bouquet of chardonnay.

The tall stem of the traditional riesling glass keeps the wine well away from the heat of the hand that holds it, while the smaller, rounded bowl at the top is more than enough to emphasise the variety's aromas without over-exaggeration.

The champagne flute is tall, narrow and slender - the best imaginable shape to retain the precious bubbles, while the classic dry sherry shape is a smaller version of this concept, with a view to providing just a hint of the wine's delicate, nutty bouquet.

Several modern glassmakers, Riedel in particular, have taken these concepts to a broad and occasionally brow-raising extreme, marrying variations on traditional shapes with different sizes and qualities of glass and crystal. We are expected to buy precisely the correct glass for every wine style on the planet, or else face the suggestion that we're somehow inadequate.

Don't be intimidated by it all - there is an easy way out. You don't have to spend a fortune per stem on the most expensive brands, for there are some glasses that look remarkably similar to them, but given they are not made of quite the same standard of material, are substantially cheaper.

You need four basic shapes to get by - Burgundy, Bordeaux, champagne and the smaller port size. If you're just after a single all-round shape that works for most wine, look at the Sangiovese or Chianti shape by Riedel. It's a terrific glass, and its great shape is imitated everywhere.

Frankly, though, if you're entertaining at home and for whatever reason you have to pour a Burgundy into a Bordeaux glass, don't fret. Be assured that at that very moment, it's happening in households and restaurants all over the world.

But remember this important point. Just because some fancy and expensive glasses can hold more than a bottle when full, it doesn't mean that's the thing to do with them. They're actually designed to be used with just a standard pour. Hope I haven't spoiled your next party.

No comments: