This Time It Wasn’t About the Port

Georg Riedel

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.

In case you were you wondering about the wines, the five Vintage Ports served were:

  1. Quinta do Vesuvio 2008
  2. Fonseca Porto Guimaraens 2001
  3. Graham’s 2000
  4. Vau Vintage 1999
  5. Graham’s 1980

In our next blog posting, Charles will give us his insights to how the wines were shown by the different glasses.

The Tasting Panel:

  1. Julie Barba, Riedel
  2. Luis Baila, RTP1
  3. Joaquim Augusto Cândido da Silva, Portfolio Vinhos Lda
  4. Charles Symington, winemaker, Symington Family Estates
  5. José Manuel Sousa Soares, winemaker, Gran Cruz
  6. Georg Riedel
  7. Eduardo Neto, Sommelier, Restaurante Pedro Lemos, Porto
  8. Ana Pereira, Ramos Pinto
  9. Pedro Sá, winemaker, Sogevinus
  10. Sergio Pereira, sommelier, Restaurante New Faces, V N de Gaia
  11. João Afonso, Revista de Vinhos
  12. José João Santos, Wine Magazine
  13. António Montenegro, Sogevinus
  14. Antonio Agrellos, winemaker, Quinta do Noval
  15. José Silva, presenter, Hora de Baco, RTPN
  16. Luis Sottomayor, winemaker, Sogrape
  17. David Guimaraens, winemaker, Taylor Fladgate Partnership
  18. 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:

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22 thoughts on “This Time It Wasn’t About the Port

  1. The glasses were tested with one mature port from a light-ish vintage (G80), one light early-maturing port (SV99), and three not-yet-mature ports (G00, FG01, Qv08). It is interesting, and to me slightly surprising, that the same shape was deemed best for that range of maturities and weights.

    Do the tasters believe that the same glass shape would have been preferred for a fully-mature port from a full-weight vintage, say a big shipper’s 1970?

    1. Hello Julian! Spoke with Charles and showed him this comment. He disagrees with your assessment of the 1980 – he feels it is certainly NOT a lightweight, but actually a fantastic wine, better than the 77 and every bit as good as the 1970; a different profile, but similar weight. As to the proposition of different shapes for different ages or profiles of port, he declined to comment. Thanks! Cynthia

  2. I would love to try a similar (but probably smaller) tasting some day. I’ve always loved my Riedel Vinum Port glasses, but I do have a variety of others from several manufactuers (including the Riedel Sommelier Vintage Port and Riedel Sommelier Tawny Port) and think this would be a great experience. Is there anything else to be aware of when attempting a tasting like this other than just a common Port served in all of the glasses?

    1. Glenn, one aspect of glassware when running a tasting is, of course, cleanliness – you know that, I know – but it is something about which Georg is very keen; so much so, when he visited Malvedos he went out to the kitchen to make sure Branca and Prazeres knew exactly how it should be done! There are detailed instructions and photos on their site, and printed in their catalogues! The other thing during this tasting was that between flights he insisted they NOT use water to rinse the glasses, but a drop of the new port – if the local tap water is chlorinated, it can throw off the wine. I’ll ask Charles, too. Thanks!

  3. Hello Julian and Glenn! Glad you found this. As mentioned, I am hoping to sit down with Charles to get a more technical-tasting angle on this event, and I can bring your questions to him, so stay tuned. FYI – Looking at the scores from the end of round 4, the Vinum port was the next favourite, close contender, whereas the white wine glass was clearly eliminated when compared with the three port glasses.

  4. I was always very sceptical of the theory that glass shape dramatically affects the enjoyment of a prticular wine until Georg presented a very similar demonstration at Vinopolis a few years ago. As a result of that demonstration, I bought myself several Riedel Vinum Port glasses and use these whenever I can.

    However, I would be very interested to learn what the glasses used in the demonstration were and might then try a similar tasting with more mature ports. Please let us know what the glasses were that were included in the event.


    1. Hi Alex. The final four are named in the text above (paragraphs above and below close up photos of 4 glasses). I have asked Rosa to send me the full list, will include in next posting, when I talk to Charles. Thanks! (cynthia)

  5. Like Alex, I was a bit skeptical of all the talk regarding special glass shapes until a number of years ago when I attended an event where Georg did a similar comparison. Although not done with Ports, it was one of the more educational things I’ve done related to wine tasting and opened my eyes to using proper stemware. I do hope you or Charles are able to post a more technical write up of this event. The information would be quite useful to anyone who enjoys Port and I’m sure a great read as well. And I too would like to know all the glasses in this tasting, if possible.

    Best Regards

    1. I’m typing, I’m typing! Caught Charles today, and hope to post tonight or early tomorrow. Thanks! – Cynthia

  6. Is this the most-commented posting to the Malvedos blog? There must be a lesson in that: host a similar event in London.

    Use mature Vintage Ports—being of the greatest interest to most of those who have commented—including top-notch houses from a top-notch year, such as Dow and Graham 1970.

    Several of us own many glasses much like the Arcoroc Viticole INAO/ISO3591 tasting glass, mostly because they are cheap and seem not bad. (Fourteen people, times twenty-something ports, is more than a few glasses.) So please could one of these be added to the range of glasses.

    Charge a fair price for entry, and please save places, at least provisionally, for those who have already commented. At the tasting, allow plenty of time.

    We really want to know this truth for ourselves. Please help make that happen.

    1. Impassioned plea duly noted, Julian!! I will make sure the right people read this. Thanks so much! Cynthia.

    2. Julian D. A. Wiseman said: “Charge a fair price for entry, and please save places, at least provisionally, for those who have already commented.”

      …and perhaps also for those who are just commenting now? 😉

      This is very interesting indeed. I am a big fan of the Reidel Vinum and often carry a set to a tasting, especially if top-notch Ports are being served. I find the ISO glasses functional, but not ideal and nowhere near as good as the Vinum.

      As for a UK version of this experiment: I’m in!


  7. These sorts of tastings are always interesting (I’d love to see the Factory House doing a “does it matter what you filter your Port through?” tasting) but endlessly subjective. For instance, having just been experimenting with with the same Port in a Riedel Vinum Port glass and a cheap tulip-shaped Cognac glass, I notice that how much Port is in the glass and how much it is swirled before smelling has such a big effect on the aroma that I can’t work out how to eliminate them to find out which is the “better” glass.

    Am I correcting in thinking the “official” IVDP Port glass was not involved? It would have been nice to see how that fared!

    Of course, the other question is price. Would you rather have a bottle of Graham’s 1970 or the Sommelier Port Glass…?

    1. Hi Jacob, There was a flight involving four competitors’ glasses, but they were brought to the tasting by Riedel, and were not identified. I cannot tell you if one was the IVDP, I have one photo of the flight, but it did not turn out sharply, so I just cannot be certain. And if you can find Graham’s 1970 for the price of Sommelier glass… I’ll be in touch! Thanks for stopping in!

  8. If there was a similar tasting organised and open to interested members of the port-loving shoulder, I would be very interested in a place.

    Especially if this was in London – or at the Graham’s Lodge!

  9. Alex, I like that auto-correction – what WAS it thinking?

    All: I have advised all the appropriate powers that be to read this thread and consider all your suggestions about possible tasting events, venues, etc. I’m sure you know it takes time to plan and organise events like this properly, so do be a little patient. You know we are using Facebook to promote events that are open to the public, as well, so watch that too for news. Thanks very much for all the interest and support.

    And yes, this is now officially the longest comment thread yet on the blog. Thanks!

  10. There is a related question about tasting glasses, and I’d like to know if the Symingtons have a solution.

    As already mentioned several people own numerous Arcoroc Viticole tasting glasses (approximately INAO/ISO3591). Many of mine came in six-by-six cardboard boxes. Alas the boxes impart a smell to the glasses. In New York I could wash the glasses at home, put them in the box to go to the tasting, taxi to a restaurant, and on arrival the glasses would smell and so have to be washed again.

    Is there a good means of transporting and storing numerous glasses? Obviously glasses that have slept for months in a basement should bathe before mingling in polite society, but surely it should be possible to box clean glasses for a few hours without contamination. Surely?

    Maybe Georg Riedel has an answer.

    1. Hi Julian, I know exactly what you mean, I’ve notice that too. I’ve circulated your question, stay tuned.

    2. Julian, we received the following response from Georg Riedel:
      First of all I suggest that you taste from one of the Riedel Port glasses mentioned in the blog and see the difference it makes. We do make a Riedel carry bag with padded inserts that can hold about 8 port glasses. ( 4 larger size glasses ) Available on our website. Also an insulated wine carry bag would work. For larger tastings and events, we suggest to store and transport the glasses in racks.

  11. And don’t forget us West Coasters on this side of the pond if a tasting is organized. Can’t let all those UK’ers have all the fun 😉

    1. Chuckling madly, Andy… no danger. When and if anything is organised, anywhere in the world, I promise I will see that the word gets out to everyone, globally!

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