Charles on Tasting Glasses

Caught up with Charles Symington, Graham’s wine maker, at last, to learn more about his perceptions of the differences between glasses, and what were the factors that guided his choice of glasses to retain or eliminate between flights at last Friday’s Riedel tasting of Vintage Port at Factory House.

From the first flight of 16 glasses, it was easy to eliminate 8 – many were not intended as wine glasses, and were non-runners from Charles’s point of view simply because the glasses did not hold the aromas of the port at all.

The photo above shows Charles’s glasses at the end of judging the first flight – the glasses pulled forward are the ones he voted to eliminate.  From left to right, the pulled forward glasses are number 1, the Ouverture Bourbon glass, 2 is the Wine Tumbler Champagne glass, number 6 is a Restaurant Tequila glass, number 9 is the Vinum XL Aquavit glass, 10 is the Ouverture Spirits glass, 13 is the Sommelier Cognac XO, 15 is the Restaurant Single Malt Whiskey, and 16 is the Wine Tumbler Port glass.

If you look at the shapes, the glasses he eliminated are all fairly open, and the beverages for which they were designed are all (except the champagne) very high alcohol spirits, not wines.

When I asked how he made his choices in subsequent flights, he said it’s not something you can easily explain, the best glasses concentrated the aromas better, but also made them very sharp.  He said it’s maybe best explained by analogy – the difference between music played on a child’s inexpensive beginner violin versus the same music played on a Stradivarius – there is an accuracy and purity in the impressions you receive from the finer instrument.

Charles said it will be very apparent to anyone who does this kind of tasting: the different aromas of the wine will be sharper, more clear, in a more suitable glass.

One of our readers asked what glass Charles uses in his blending work.  The photo at far left is from our Sala da Prova (Tasting Room), taken when they were setting out some wines last summer to review for possible blending; near left is the Riedel Sommelier Vintage Port glass (this leaded glass, and its non-lead glass twin were joint finalists at Friday’s tasting).

The Sala da Prova glass is a professional tasting glass made in Portugal, Charles described it as a fairly closed tulip shape, and commented it is actually not very easy to drink from – but it does concentrate the aromas for him.

Tasting the same wine – Vintage Port, of course! – from multiple glasses is definitely worth trying.  If you look at the comments on the prior post about the Riedel tasting, several people commented they were skeptical what difference a glass could make until they went through this kind of exercise themselves.  If you would like to try this at home, here are a few tips:

  • Do line up a wide variety of glasses – narrow tulip, open bowl-shaped, straight sided, as well as the specialist Vintage Port glasses – so you can experience the results from the very different shapes, and how they hold (or don’t) the aromas of Vintage Port.
  • Be sure the glasses are scrupulously clean – the Riedel website has very specific directions, most notably, detergent is not necessary, hot water should do the trick.
  • Sniff the clean empty glass to be sure there are no lingering odours from detergent, chlorinated water, or a dirty dish-towel (a common problem in restaurants).
  • Before you pour your wine servings, dispense just a little port in the glass and swirl, then discard that liquid into the next glass, swirl and repeat for all glasses in the line up.  This should clear any last lingering off odours.
  • Think about your fill quantities in the glass:  keep them consistent across all the glasses.
  • Perhaps try the effect of different fill levels in identical glasses – Charles was wondering aloud if that might affect aroma perceptions (volume of space available in the glass for aromas to rise into).
  • Of course follow the classic wine tasting assessment routine:  swirl the wine in the glass, then sniff and assess the aromas, really think about those, before tasting the wine.
  • When you assess the performance of each glass, think about the aromas (concentration, variety or complexity perceptible), but think also about the drinking sensations:  flavour of course, but also texture, perception of alcohol, acidity and tannins.  Georg Riedel feels that even these things can be influenced by the glass shape.

Several people asked for the full list of glasses tested on Friday.  Note that the event was focussed on the “on-trade” glassess – those available to restaurants, bars, etc.  Most of these are also available at retail, possibly by a different range name, your Riedel dealer will be able to help you.  Note that number 11 was only made the first time a week or two ago, but it is identical to number 3, the Sommelier Vintage Port, which is available at retail.  These two were tied as the final choice for best glass.

  1. 6408/77 – Ouverture Bourbon – Non lead
  2. 412/08   Wine tumbler champagne – Non Lead
  3. 4400/60 Sommelier Vintage Port – Lead Cristal 24% PBO hand made
  4. 480/5     Ouverture White Wine – Non Lead
  5. 446/71   Restaurant Cognac – Non Lead
  6. 446/18 Restaurant Tequila – Non lead
  7. 4444/55 Vinum Extrem Icewine – Lead Cristal machine made
  8. 4444/85 Vinum Extrem Prosecco – Lead Cristal machine made
  9. 6416/10  Vinum XL Aquavit – Lead Cristal machine made
  10. 6408/19 Ouverture Spirits – Non lead
  11. 446/60 Restaurant Port Glass – Non lead
  12. 6416/60 Vinum Port glass – Lead Cristal machine made
  13. 4400/70 Sommeliers Cognac XO –  Lead Cristal hand made
  14. 4400/61 Sommeliers Tawny Port –Lead Cristal hand made
  15. 446/80  Restaurant Single Malt Whisky – Non lead
  16. 412/60  Wine Tumbler Port glass – Non lead

If you do your own testing at home, we would love to hear about it!  Post to the comment space below to tell us about it, or on Facebook, if you want to include a photo.

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