A most unusual Port tasting was held at the Factory House in Porto last Friday: although the five vintage ports on show were wonderful, the 18 port winemakers and critics present were asked not to judge the quality of the wines, but to judge which of 20 different wine glasses best delivered the aromas and flavours of Vintage Port.
Georg Riedel, 10th generation to head up the famous glassmaking company, and Johnny Symington, co-Managing Director of Symington Family Estates which, through their subsidiary Portfolio Vinhos Lda, distributes Riedel glassware in Portugal, hosted this extraordinary event.
The Riedel company, based in Austria, is renowned as the first glassmaker to propose specific shapes as well as sizes of glass to enhance the experience of tasting individual wines. Friday’s event was an example of their ongoing research and partnership with the wine trade to determine the optimum glasses for specific wines, in this case Vintage Port.
On Friday, the panel members arrived to find the table of the second dining room at the Factory House laid with place settings of 16 glasses in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Georg introduced the event, explaining how the shape of the glass can act as a loudspeaker for the wine, enhancing the intensity of the aromas and even influencing the drinker’s perception of the alcohol level, sweetness or dryness and mouth feel of the wine. He then laid out the rules and format of the event as follow:
- Round 1 they tasted from 16 glasses, and would be asked to eliminate 8;
- Round 2 they had to eliminate 4 of those 8;
- Round 3 the wine would be served in the remaining 4 Riedel glasses and also 4 glasses made by competitors; participants were to eliminate 4 out of the 8;
- Round 4 eliminate 2 of the remaining 4;
- Round 5 decide which one glass best presented Vintage Port to the drinker.
One Vintage Port was served for each round. There was absolute pin-drop silence in that room as the participants concentrated, sniffing and tasting from each glass, sometimes taking two glasses aside to focus more closely. The first flight was concluded surprisingly rapidly, subsequent rounds took a little more time. But for the first three rounds the scoring was very clear, often unanimous or nearly so, whether to keep or eliminate a particular glass.
Of the four glasses that made it to Round 4, all were Riedel glasses: 3 of the competitors’ glasses were almost unanimously rejected, the fourth was closer, but still several votes short of being kept in competition. Georg said he was excited to see that two of the remaining glasses were lead glass and two were not, though he did not identify which was which, and said no one but a glass specialist would spot the difference. Leaded glass has a more porous surface, and he wondered if that might be an advantage in presenting Vintage Port to the drinker.
Of the two eliminated in Round 4, Glass Number 4 was the Ouverture White Wine glass, developed in 1989. Georg commented that absent a specialised port glass, a white wine glass is a good choice for serving port. In fact the glass is one of his favourites; for him this glass presented the Vintage Ports with less intensity but greater diversity of aromas, as well as a grainier texture, drier flavour and a wonderful mouth feel. The other elimination was Number 12, the Vinum Port glass, which was designed in 1991 after a similar tasting event with winemakers.
In the end, it was a dead tie: Glass Number 3 (left in the left photo) and Glass Number 11 (left in the right photo) each received 9 votes. Georg was actually quite excited about the results: Glass number 3 is the Sommelier Vintage Port glass which was developed in 1992 and is made of mouth-blown lead crystal, whilst Glass number 11 is the identical glass machine blown from non-lead glass. The glasses used for the tasting had been made for the first time just 10 days previously. He felt the results proved that in fact, a drinker’s impression of the wine is governed solely by the dimensions and shape of the glassware, and not by the lead content of the glass itself.
Both Johnny and Georg remarked that the tasting panel was comprised of top critics and the winemakers who, between them, represented 80 or 90% of the Vintage and premium Port production. To have this group reach such a clear concensus confirms that yes, the shape of the glass really does affect the drinker’s perception and potential appreciation of the wine, and furthermore, that this particular shape is the one they feel will best present their Vintage Ports to consumers.
- Quinta do Vesuvio 2008
- Fonseca Porto Guimaraens 2001
- Graham’s 2000
- Vau Vintage 1999
- Graham’s 1980
In our next blog posting, Charles will give us his insights to how the wines were shown by the different glasses.
- Julie Barba, Riedel
- Luis Baila, RTP1
- Joaquim Augusto Cândido da Silva, Portfolio Vinhos Lda
- Charles Symington, winemaker, Symington Family Estates
- José Manuel Sousa Soares, winemaker, Gran Cruz
- Georg Riedel
- Eduardo Neto, Sommelier, Restaurante Pedro Lemos, Porto
- Ana Pereira, Ramos Pinto
- Pedro Sá, winemaker, Sogevinus
- Sergio Pereira, sommelier, Restaurante New Faces, V N de Gaia
- João Afonso, Revista de Vinhos
- José João Santos, Wine Magazine
- António Montenegro, Sogevinus
- Antonio Agrellos, winemaker, Quinta do Noval
- José Silva, presenter, Hora de Baco, RTPN
- Luis Sottomayor, winemaker, Sogrape
- David Guimaraens, winemaker, Taylor Fladgate Partnership
- Johnny Symington, co-managing director, Symington Family Estates
If you wish to try these glasses and do your own wineglass-testing tasting at home, three of the four final glasses mentioned above are available for retail purchase; only number 11 is so far only available to the trade.
Riedel’s website has full details about their range of glassware, a guide to help you select the right glass for your wine or spirit, and information about the firm and the family that has run it since the 17th century: www.riedel.com