Riedel: A Lesson in Silliness.
If you haven't figured it out by now, demystifying wine and making it more accessible to more people is my raison d'etre here in my weekly Vine Geeks blog. Whether it be celebrating a new Arizona wine or taking aim at the outright hubris of the "big boys," I really just want more people to fall in love with wine like I did. I figure the way to do that is to peel back the pretentious onion for those who are maybe curious but intimidated by all the silliness surrounding the subject of wine. Some of that silliness is perfectly illustrated by The Riedel Glass Company.
See also: Why Per Se's Wine List Sucks
Riedel is a centuries old, family owned glass company in Austria. In the 1950's, Claus Riedel, in a stroke of marketing genius, decided that creating differently shaped glasses for different types of wines would help him sell more glass. This resulted in the development of the "Sommelier Series," a set of over twenty different hand blown, cut glass, lead crystal wine glasses that allegedly made wine taste better. Each glass was designed for specific types of wine, a wide bowl with a narrow opening for pinot noir, a long, slenderly tapered glass for Bordeaux, etc. etc. Claus Riedel gave birth to a market nobody needed but now everybody buys into.
Riedel is approaching a half billion dollars per year in revenue, so Claus was right. If you build it they will come. When I say "they" I mean the wine establishment. Such luminaries as Robert Parker have gushed over the heightened experience Riedel stems provide for the enjoyment of wine. I've been to three separate seminars given by Maximilian Riedel showcasing the "differences" between wines consumed out of their glasses versus others. Let me tell you, there are maybe 1 out of 100 tasters who could articulate the extremely subtle differences. And those seminars are aimed at getting restaurant folks to buy into the idea and thereby purchase the$30/glass sets, folks you're being had.
Are there differences? Yes. Are those differences worth spending upwards of $50 per glass? Hell no. I like drinking wine from a well-made, hand cut glass. That being said, buying several differently shaped glasses for different wines is ludicrous, and every restaurant owner who is now obliged to do so curses Riedel each time they have to place another expensive order. My advice? Stick to one shape, the Riedel "Degustazione" is a great all-purpose glass. The fact that these shapes "heighten" your enjoyment of wine is a self-fulfilling prophecy, you taste what they tell you you're tasting, if you believe it is better, than it is better. Perception is everything.
I'm not saying that Riedel glasses are bad, or that they aren't pretty. They make beautiful stuff, check out their decanters, gorgeous. What I am saying is that there is already enough fluff between wine and regular people without adding an extra layer of exclusionary products. Great wine tastes great out of a red solo cup so don't be put off by these silly distractions. Find the glass you like, find the wine you like, drink it with people you like alongside food you like. That's what it's all about.
When I'm not writing this column, or reading vintage charts to my daughter, you can find me pouring wine at FnB.