While Louis Sullivan had buildings in mind when he coined the phrase “form ever follows function,” it seems equally applicable to the art of making wine glasses. The idea that the shape of an object should be created around its intended function seems very like what Mr. Riedel had in mind when he sculpted his famous collection.
Wine GllassThat “form follows function” is the lesson I gleaned from a highly enlightening Riedel wine tasting recently given at the Miele Showroom in the A & D building in New York. As all their stemware is dishwasher safe, Miele, a top of the line appliance company, created two dishwashers specifically amenable to Riedel stemware. For, as we were about to learn, wine is, indeed, glass appropriate. That is, a Bordeaux poured into a glass created specifically for that varietal flowers beautifully, whereas if tasted from a Riesling or Syrah shaped bowl, the Bordeaux’s taste and bouquet will be stunted, not fully blossoming into its full potential.
With three Riedel “Vitis” wine glasses, one plastic cup, a bottle of water, and some Lindt chocolate before us, we began our most interesting exploration into the world of the finely tuned wine glass. The mission was to help us discover whether each of the wines we tried would taste the same or differently in the three different and varietal specific wine glasses provided. After pouring the same wine in each of the stemware, we evidenced a distinctly difference taste from each glass. This was a blind tasting of another kind: a fascinating deduction type exercise from which we would scientifically draw our own conclusions. Proceeding on to the other two varietals, we came to the same conclusion. We deducted that the shape of a wine glass does affect the taste of wine, with each varietal having its own best shaped glass to serve its particular savor. Riedel suggests that this occurs because the shape of a glasses’ bowl allows for different levels of oxidation, each opening up at varying times depending on its size. In addition, the bowl’s lip manipulates and pinpoints which part of your tongue onto which the wine will flow. Delivering wine to the appropriate palate area allows for an optimal wine experience. Because each varietal has different “flavors” that targets one’s palate at “the right place,” the wine is directed to the “part of your mouth were it’s flavor will be most appreciated.” Thus, the shape of the wine glass decidedly impacts and affects the taste of wine.
CAPTURING THE SUBTLETIES
As for the finer points, JulieAnne Drainville of Riedel notes “ thinner glasses maintain better temperature than thicker ones. Riedel makes its glasses this thin because of the very high quality of silica it uses in making them. It is very pure composite, lacking the iron oxide that tends to weaken a glass and contributes a grey or green discoloration.” Riedel points out that they have “spent years perfecting the shape and size of wine glasses so that they can direct the wine to the right sensors on the tongue and funnel the aroma up to the nose... larger wine glasses are better for red wines with strong aromas and complex personality. Wine glasses with smaller rim and volume are better for white wines with more delicate aromas; they can better concentrate the aromas and reduce aerating surface area. To fully appreciate the personality of different grape varieties and the subtle character of wines, it is essential to haven an appropriately fine tuned glass shape.” In addition, the difference between a cut rim and that of a rolled one is defined by where the wine is targeted onto your palate.
Our sense of taste and smell are directly related, with smell, being the more discerning sense, dictating what we taste. To savor a wine’s potential is the goal, to see it flower at its best is the object. This subtlety of glass shape marries well to the art of wine tasting, where fine distinctions and details of bouquet, savor, color, taste enhance the difference between a mediocre experience and an exceptional one. The changing stemware allows one to capture these subtleties, relishing in the finish and aromas of particular varietals.
Does shape make the glass, as form follows function? Indeed, in tasting wine, perfection of taste is subtlety achieved through the marriage of varietal to glass shape.