written by:
January 21, 2011

Not so long ago I was at a dinner with a handful of food writers--I was there merely as a food taster--and the fancy stemware from the Austrian firm Riedel came up. One woman extolled the famed Riedel wine tasting experience, a kind of demonstration where one tastes wine out of a variety of Riedel glasses (chardonnay from a special chardonnay glass, cabernet sauvignon from a cab cup, and so on), it tastes and smells much better than usual, and you're forced to realize that you've been drinking your fine pinots out of the wrong glasses for your whole life. I was skeptical, but she told me it was enlightening. Last night at SFMOMA, Riedel honcho, and 11th generation family glass man Georg Riedel hosted just this kind of tasting, and I wasn't going to miss it.

The stars of the show: (from left) Montrachet, Grand Cru Burgundy, Grand Cru Bordeaux.
The stars of the show: (from left) Montrachet, Grand Cru Burgundy, Grand Cru Bordeaux.
1 / 5
Georg Riedel and a Riedel glass. I asked him if he travels with one of his wine glasses and he said that he does bring along a small one, "an SOS version" of the Riedel stuff.
Georg Riedel and a Riedel glass. I asked him if he travels with one of his wine glasses and he said that he does bring along a small one, "an SOS version" of the Riedel stuff.
Courtesy of 
EROL GURIAN info@gurian.de
2 / 5
The bowl of the Burgundy Grand Cru holds 38 oz of liquid, something like a bottle and a half of wine. When I took the glass home and washed it later that night I could fit my whole fist up to the wrist inside.
The bowl of the Burgundy Grand Cru holds 38 oz of liquid, something like a bottle and a half of wine. When I took the glass home and washed it later that night I could fit my whole fist up to the wrist inside.
3 / 5
My placemat with the trio of Sommeliers glasses and the pair of "Jokers"--the plastic cup and a run-of-the-mill wineglass.
My placemat with the trio of Sommeliers glasses and the pair of "Jokers"--the plastic cup and a run-of-the-mill wineglass.
4 / 5
Here's the Montrachet glass we used to taste the Ceja Vineyards chardonnay.
Here's the Montrachet glass we used to taste the Ceja Vineyards chardonnay.
5 / 5
The stars of the show: (from left) Montrachet, Grand Cru Burgundy, Grand Cru Bordeaux.
The stars of the show: (from left) Montrachet, Grand Cru Burgundy, Grand Cru Bordeaux.

I sat down with Georg, a 40 year veteran of the family concern, before the tasting, and though he was reticent on what precisely makes a certain Riedel glass right for a certain varietal of wine--"We'll talk after the tasting," he kept repeating--he did offer a bit of insight into what he calls Riedel's "instruments to highlight the quality of wine."

Georg Riedel and a Riedel glass. I asked him if he travels with one of his wine glasses and he said that he does bring along a small one, "an SOS version" of the Riedel stuff.
Georg Riedel and a Riedel glass. I asked him if he travels with one of his wine glasses and he said that he does bring along a small one, "an SOS version" of the Riedel stuff.
He made a distinction between the "private senses"--touch, taste, and smell--and the "official senses"--sight and hearing--arguing that insofar as there is no such thing as 20/20 tasting, and that no official medical test can be administered to find out how well we smell, the private senses we use to judge wine are more a matter of perception than of some benchmarked ability.

He then told me about how his father, Claus Riedel was the first to make the discovery that particularly shaped glasses serve particular varietals. From the late 1950s onward the company dedicated itself to "wine friendly" glasses with scant attention paid to aesthetics. Riedel was not entirely forthcoming in how his father, and subsequent Riedel glassmakers arrive at a particular shape for a particular varietal, and instead told me that "you must taste it. It is convincing once you have it on your palette. It's the same beverage you're tasting, the only change is the vessel and how that vessel changes your perception of the wine."

The bowl of the Burgundy Grand Cru holds 38 oz of liquid, something like a bottle and a half of wine. When I took the glass home and washed it later that night I could fit my whole fist up to the wrist inside.
The bowl of the Burgundy Grand Cru holds 38 oz of liquid, something like a bottle and a half of wine. When I took the glass home and washed it later that night I could fit my whole fist up to the wrist inside.
I took my seat in a large room just off the atrium along with maybe 100 others. We each had a placemat in front of us with three glasses from Riedel's luxe Sommeliers series of glasses, as well as a cheap wine glass and a plastic cup. My first thought was, this is clearly stacking the deck if the high-tech, high-pricetag Austrian stuff is going up against a plastic cup and a glass straight out of a spaghetti-and-red-sauce style joint.

Riedel took the podium and commenced a show he must have put on hundreds of times. The jokes were polished as nicely as the $500 decanter in front of him, and he led the tasting with precision and humor. Granted with the goal of showing each of us just how anemic our wine-drinking lives had been before Riedel.

My placemat with the trio of Sommeliers glasses and the pair of "Jokers"--the plastic cup and a run-of-the-mill wineglass.
My placemat with the trio of Sommeliers glasses and the pair of "Jokers"--the plastic cup and a run-of-the-mill wineglass.
The tasting consisted of sipping and sniffing three wines--a chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon from Napa winery Cejas--from the late 1950s designs of the Bordeaux Grand Cru (that's the cab), the Burgunday Grand Cru (a massive glass for the pinot noir that could hold a bottle and a half of wine), and the Montrachet for the chardonnay.

As we inhaled bouquets and tippled a taste, Georg had us pouring the assembled wines into our various cups. He pointed out that the wonderful aromas of the chardonnay in the Montrachet glass evaporated when sniffed from the plastic cup; that the pinot noir in its proper goblet turned bitter and gruff when taken from the cabernet glass; and that the cabernet was a pale imitation of life when sampled from anything but its rightful glass.

All told, it was quite impressive and Riedel's take on how the three wines changed their shape based on the shape of the glass was spot-on. Though I had lingering doubts about what at times felt like a high-brow exercise in group think. Without Georg telling me what I was experiencing, would I have experienced it? I'll grant that the pinot noir was pretty epic in that pinot noir glass, but would the crowd at large have murmured so disdainfully when drinking it out of the cab glass had Georg not set them up to be disappointed.

Here's the Montrachet glass we used to taste the Ceja Vineyards chardonnay.
Here's the Montrachet glass we used to taste the Ceja Vineyards chardonnay.
"Oh that's sad, just sad," exclaimed the doleful woman next to me when Riedel had us sip the robust cab from the chardonnay glass.

Not as good, sure, but sad? And would any of us have so quickly noted where the wine hits our tongues, where the acidity of the pinot resides in our mouths, and just precisely how tannic it seems when drunk from a "wine unfriendly" cup? I certainly don't want to short-shrift old Georg on his expertise in glassmaking and wine drinking. But to what degree was he leading my perceptions, describing them to me in real time so as guide me along his desired sensory path.

I certainly came away thinking highly of the fancy stemware, but couldn't totally shake the feeling that I was drinking right out of Riedel's hand.
 

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's 2016 Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Rare green AD65 radio from Ecko.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016
amaroso40040
When a garage damaged by termites had to go, a studio emerges.
June 19, 2016
the blue lagoon iceland geothermal spa hotel water visitors
The famed geothermal spa outside Reykjavík, Iceland, is entering a major new phase—paving the way for the area’s first five-star hotel.
June 19, 2016
heaven on earth maya lin topography what is missing california academy sciences wood video
A new monograph by Rizzoli explores the memorial project by the renowned artist.
June 19, 2016
gable game austin texas cantilevered home facade windows upper level car port
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to indoor/outdoor living. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
June 18, 2016
Modern prefab lakeside home in Bloomingdale, New Jersey
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
June 18, 2016
Rectangular bento glass table with compartments.
These top-notch projects by design students earned a spot on our honor roll.
June 18, 2016