Inside a Riedel Comparative Wine Glass Tasting

I've always been enamored with Riedel glasses because of their large, delicate handblown bowls and the lyrical clinking noise they make when you toast with them. Still, I've wondered how much of a difference they make when it comes to evaluating and appreciating wine.

I had a chance to find out the answer to this question when PartySugar and I were invited to attend a wine glass tasting hosted by Maximilian Riedel himself. There, the CEO (and 11th-generation Riedel glassmaker) introduced us to the company's latest collection, Vitis, and challenged us to taste and compare popular wines using the Vitis grape-specific glasses to decide if shape truly made a difference. Did it? Find out when you read more.

I was astounded by the results. In a plastic cup, none of the wines had any aroma whatsoever. Higher-alcohol wines required a bigger space to breathe; smaller, narrower glass bowls fostered a burning alcohol sensation on the nose and the eyes. Insufficiently-sized glasses cause various wines to have faults that they otherwise wouldn't have, such as overly mineral, bitter, green, or harsh characteristics. I left a complete convert, with the following takeaways:

  • A wine glass pour should be no taller than three fingers in height.
  • Don't serve wine too cold, otherwise, Maximilian says, "it'll close up like a flower does."
  • 80 percent of wine tasting happens through the nose.
  • Because aromatics are so important, never drink from a cup or glass that flares out; it will cause the wine to lose its bouquet.

If you aren't convinced just by reading this, then I encourage you to conduct your own comparative wine glass tasting. Does the size and shape of your wine glass affect your tasting experience?

Getting ready for the Riedel tasting.

Filled glasses. From left to right, the Riedel Vitis Montrachet/Chardonnay glass, Riesling/Sauvignon Blanc glass, Cabernet glass, and Pinot Noir glass.

The Riedel Vitis glass designed for Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc allowed our German Riesling to hit the tip of the palate first, registering diesel notes on the nose, as well as qualities of lychee, herbs, and honey.

From left to right, the Vitis Riesling/Sauvignon Blanc glass, Vitis Montrachet glass, and a stout table glass. Without sufficient room for the wine to breathe in the table glass, the Riesling tasted metallic, subdued, and one-dimensional.

We tried the Riesling in a plastic cup. It had no aroma whatsoever. "This you will need in the morning instead of coffee!" Maximilian exclaimed after his first taste.

Riedel's Chardonnay/Montrachet Vitis glass.

Note the difference in shape of the Montrachet/Chardonnay glass (left) versus the Pinot Noir glass (right).

Note the difference in shape of the Cabernet glass (left) versus the Pinot Noir glass (right).

Our four glasses, ready to be tasted.

In a blind tasting, we compared two glasses of Sangiovese that tasted completely different. They turned out to the exact same one — only one had been decanted.

Maximilian Riedel led the discussion.

The Vitis glasses also produce a picturesque, hurricane-like swirl.

We transferred each wine from one glass to another, noting the way it changed in aroma and taste.

The Riedel Pinot Noir glass can tilt to a perfect 90-degree angle. This allowed the young, tight Santa Maria wine we tasted to loosen up.
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