Monday just past offered up a welcome diversion to the usual workday. I teamed up with Jason Donnelly, Director of Wholesale Operations for Murray’s Cheese, to lead an early evening pairing seminar on the wines and cheeses of the Loire Valley at Wilmington, Delaware restaurant and wine bar, Domaine Hudson.
As Jason, one of my coworkers and I enjoyed dinner after the event, Domaine Hudson’s owner, Tom Hudson, stopped by to chat. Just back from a trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Tom mentioned that nearly all of the wineries he’d visited were using the same glass in their tasting rooms, a new product from Austrian stemware giant Riedel. He’d ordered some of the glasses as soon as he returned home and wondered if we’d be up for a little taste test. As if he really had to ask….
I’ve been a longtime user of Riedel’s stemware. My cabinet is stocked with red and white Burgundy, Bordeaux, Riesling, and Port glasses, along with Champagne flutes. I do feel that each glass achieves an elegance of appearance and delivers a clear functionality.
Over the past few years, though, it seems like Riedel has introduced new stemware – and stemless ware – lines as frequently as the average Hollywood star introduces new cosmetic enhancements, which is to say alarmingly often. As with the multiplicity of unnatural applications for silicone and botox, I can’t help but have questioned the issue of form versus function, style versus substance, when it comes to some of Riedel’s recent product launches. So I was happy for this chance to put one of their latest designs to the test.
At left, my traditional standby for red Burgundy, Barolo and other aromatically intense wines, the Vinum Burgundy glass. At right, the new Vinum XL Pinot Noir stem; it's not as huge as the relative scale of these photos makes it look but it is taller than its cousin. (Images courtesy of Riedel.com.)
The glass in question is the Pinot Noir stem, part of Riedel’s new Vinum XL line. The only entry in the line that bears any drastic visual difference from the traditional Vinum series, the Pinot Noir glass is taller than the Vinum Burgundy stem, its bowl slightly less wide. The aperture of both glasses is identical but the bowl of the new Pinot Noir stem straightens into a chimney section at its top rather than continuing the flow of the bowl’s curve to the opening of the glass.
Tom gave us each two pours of the same wine, the 2006 Oregon Pinot Noir “Côte Est” from Le Cadeau Vineyard, one in each of the above glasses.
In the Vinum Burgundy glass, the wine gave off heady aromas of black cherry, blackberry and a mix of damp, loamy earth and burnt rubber. Big, chunky fruit followed on the palate, along with a volatile impression of alcohol, separate and distinct from the wine’s more desirable characteristics.
Even on the nose, it was remarkable how much different the wine showed in the Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass. The clumsy aspects were gone, replaced by much higher-toned notes of raspberry and crushed flowers, with a more appealing mineral/earth note. In the mouth, the alcoholic heat was far less noticeable, if at all, while the wine felt more focused and restrained. All the fruit was still there, but acidity was more perceptible and felt in better balance, less washed away by fat and heat as it was in the Burgundy glass.
So, the glass passed the test, delivering an enhanced tasting experience in the context of the wine for which it was designed. The design concept seems to run along the same lines as with Riedel’s Cognac glass, which I wrote about nearly a year ago. The Vinum Burgundy glass seems most appropriate for, well, Burgundy, where a generally lower degree of alcohol and greater delicacy of aroma benefit from a wide, rounded bowl and a sloping aperture which lets those aromas blossom. The Vinum XL Pinot Noir glass, though, as its variety-driven name suggests, seems tailor made for New World Pinot Noir. The narrower bowl keeps a slightly tighter rein on the volatile aspects of high alcohol while the chimney-like opening continues the squeeze, focusing the wine’s positive aromas and delivering a finer flow to the palate. At least that’s my interpretation of the science behind the design.
One needn’t have visited here for long to figure out that I’m, to borrow a term from Allen Meadows, a bit of a Burghound. Given a choice between red Burgundy and Pinot Noir from anywhere in the New World, I’ll go with Burgundy 95 times out of 100. So I’ll most likely be sticking with my good old Burg glasses. If you’re more of an Oregon/California Pinot aficionado, though, these new stems are worth the investment. In this case at least, there’s definitely substance behind the style.