THE BACK PAGES

You’re going to need a big shelf

Bordeaux, Chiantis, vintage port all rate special glasses. Now so does wine from Oregon.

ANNE KINGSTON January 14 2008
THE BACK PAGES

You’re going to need a big shelf

Bordeaux, Chiantis, vintage port all rate special glasses. Now so does wine from Oregon.

ANNE KINGSTON January 14 2008

You’re going to need a big shelf

Bordeaux, Chiantis, vintage port all rate special glasses. Now so does wine from Oregon.

taste

ANNE KINGSTON

The first brilliance-

in-branding award of 2008 goes to Oregon Pinot Noir winemakers, freshly anointed by Riedel, the Austrian glass-maker fetishized by oenophiles. The US$25 Oregon Pinot Noir glass, available in Canada in March, will catapult the state up there with vaunted wine regions—the Loire, Alsace, Sauternes and Burgundy among them—similarly blessed with eponymous Riedel glasses. It’s also a first for Riedel, famed for tailoring stemware to showcase grape varietals. Now it’s subdividing grapes by terroir. Could a Riedel Okanagan Valley Merlot glass be far behind?

Don’t laugh. Since introducing the first “functional” wine glass for Burgundy grand cru in the 1950s, Riedel has proven an innovator of glassware purported to “maximize” a wine’s aroma and taste by directing it to the most appropriate receptive “zones” on the tongue—“sweet” on the tip, for example, “acid” near the middle. Current Riedel patriarch and master salesman Georg Riedel compares himself to a conductor calling for more drums or violins to best express a composer’s intent. “We must avoid making Beethoven sound like Richard Strauss,” he has said. His goal is to create “the ideal form to bring out the wine’s true character and beauty.” Such a platonic approach has resulted in a product line of mind-boggling specificity—a glass for young red Bordeaux, another for more mature red Bordeaux; one for cognac XO, another for cognac V.S.O.P.; one for tawny port, another for vintage port; one for Brunello di Montalcino, another for Chianti. The wine critic Robert Parker has called Riedel “the finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes.” Small wonder Dave Steadman of the Toronto store Wine Establishment

reports some customers build rooms around glassware storage; owning more than a dozen different shapes isn’t uncommon.

The idea for an Oregon-specific glass began years ago when Amy Wesselman, an Oregon winemaker and executive director of the International Pinot Noir Celebration, was chatting with Riedel about the unique characteristics of that state’s Pinot Noir. The glass, which has the large bowl of the Burgundy grand cru glass but a narrower opening, was developed to focus the Oregon Pinot Noir’s “fruity” aromas while delivering a “velvety texture” to the palate, says Wesselman.

Riedel has responded to winemaker entreaties before. Its Vinum icewine glass was added in 2000 at the behest of Donald Ziraldo, cofounder of Niagara’s Inniskillin winery. Riedel resisted the idea at first, believing sales wouldn’t support it, but Ziraldo prevailed. A panel of Canadian wine-industry insiders convened to sample icewine in various Riedel glasses. The resulting design “pushes the wine back in the mouth so it tastes drier and hits areas of the tongue where acidity is more pronounced,” says Debi Pratt, head of Inniskillin’s publicity. The $34-95 glass sells briskly, she says; it inspires sales of the wine and vice versa. “People say, ‘I just have to get that glass.’ ”

Not everyone buys Riedel’s magical properties. “Shattered Myths” by Daniel Zwerd-

ling in the August 2004 issue of Gourmet famously shot down Riedel’s “tongue map” theory and argued wine tastes better because drinkers think it should. That taste is so subject to influence was summed up nicely by the British academic E.G. Richards at the 1987 Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery: “The experiences encountered whilst eating and drinking are mediated by the nerve endings in the mouth and nose and modulated by our knowledge, our beliefs, our predilections and what the morsel looked like and felt like before we popped it in our maw.” Steadman, who was part of the icewine glass development, is a believer. “I’ve seen people turn from skeptic to evangelist after drinking from a Riedel glass,” he says. During the first icewine tasting, three-quarters of the panel preferred the taste of icewine in the Riedel Sauvignon Blanc glass. When Riedel returned with the final prototype, “everybody went wholeheartedly with the new shape.” If there’s Kool-Aid being drunk here, it’s from a Riedel glass.

To that end, Inniskillin is opening the first “Riedel” tasting room this spring, says Pratt, who’s bemused the company named its newest glass “Oregon” Pinot Noir rather than the more generic “cool climate” Pinot Noir. “When we did the icewine glass, they didn’t say ‘Ontario icewine glass,’ ” she says, with a tinge of regret. But that’s the branding brilliance: once you buy an Oregon Pinot Noir glass, what else can you drink from it? M