Ranges of glasses matched to varieties

© Cape Times Friday 21st October 2016

Is the glass half-empty or half-full? As we all know by now, the answer is ‘Who cares? There’s clearly room for more wine whichever way you look at it.’ Is the glass nothing more than a vessel for conveying a liquid into our mouths or is it so much more than a mere vessel, instead having the ability to actually change the taste and feel of a wine? Or is this yet another wine myth perpetuated by wine snobs intent on ridding us all of our Paris goblets and champagne coupes?

Weighing in on the ‘a glass doesn’t make any difference to the wine at all’ side would be every single beach trattoria, restaurant and bar the length and breadth of the Mediterranean. Here, wine is as likely to be drunk from a tumbler as a wine glass and I’ve had some memorable times sipping wine in sunny beach resorts, even if I can’t remember the quality of said wine! Here, I would argue, it is the occasion, the company and often the view which makes the difference to how the wine tastes.

In the other corner sits glassmakers such as Riedel, Spiegelau and Zalto who offer ranges of glasses supposedly perfectly-matched to certain varieties. I know of people whose palates I would trust implicitly, assuring me that the exact same wine tastes differently in different glasses and so when I was sent a bottle of Leopards Leap Culinaria Pinot Noir 2014 and two Riedel Pinot Noir glasses recently, I had to give this a go myself.

So much of me wanted this not to work, to be able to say to you ‘the wine was the same whichever glass I drank it from’ but the truth is, that this is simply not the truth. The wine WAS different – more perfumed and fragrant in the Riedel Pinot Noir, more earthy in my Riedel Brunello di Montalcino glass and much less fruity in a nondescript not-quite Paris goblet. Was it better in the correct Riedel? Yes, I guess it probably was as long as you appreciate perfume over power (which I do and the wine was delicious). It was a really interesting exercise and I commend it to you all to give it a go if you possibly can.

Someone who’s gone into this in a big way is Pieter Ferreira of Graham Beck Wines. The days of the coupe, allegedly-based on Marie Antoinette’s breast (not true, sorry guys), are long gone and now it would seem that the champagne flute is heading in that direction as well. The flute is a great glass to preserve bubbles because it has a small surface area from which they can escape but the narrow neck is not so good at encouraging flavour – which is a problem for Pieter and Graham Beck.

In a recent tasting, we tasted three wines, each in two different glasses – the normal flute and another version, striving to find the perfect combination of flavour, bubbles and (has to be considered) cost. Following extensive experimentation by both Pieter and a team of scientists at Reims University in France, the normal non vintage will now be served in an entry-level Riedel  Champagne glass at the Graham Beck tasting room, whilst the company’s flagship wine, the Cuvée Clive, will come in a hand-blown Lehmann Jamesse Prestige tulip-shaped glass.

The difference between flavours and bubbles from the flutes to the speciality glasses was mindblowing, but the best example was to try the Blanc de Blancs (always my favourite GB wine) in the premium Riedel Veritas Champagne glass. Pronounced salty aromas, persistent bubbles courtesy of small indentations at the base of the glass and creamy, citrus lemon flavours which grew and developed over the course of almost an hour, this was a winning combination. As Graham Beck Wines bids to become the world’s leading MCC producer, it makes absolute sense that each wine is showcased appropriately. And on that note, watch out for a Graham Beck bubbly bar and tasting venue in Cape Town in the near future and in the meantime – drink your bubbles out of bigger, tulip-shaped glasses. So that there’s ALWAYS room for more wine!