Why the glass should be half full

 Georg Riedel, proprietor of the 250-year-old firm.

A GLISTENING table of Downton Abbey elegance, laden with glasses and candles. Elegant, beautiful glasses, but do their sizes and shapes serve any purpose? Can expensive glasses add to the pleasure of wine drinking?

I recently attended a masterclass given by Austrian Georg Riedel, on the art of choosing a wine glass, and how to use it. I sniffed and swirled, chewed on white and dark chocolate, and, after, tasted red wines from three different types of glasses.

I also, separately, tasted water and white wine from the three same glasses, which were designed using scientific analysis of the DNA of many of the 1,200 varieties of grape.

The result was far more obvious than I expected.

The wines in the glasses designed for each type tasted better than in the other glasses.

Even less expensive wines in the right glasses tasted better.

Riedel’s family business has lasted for 250 years, and, with sales of 60m glasses per year, it’s clear that there are enough wine drinkers who appreciate the holy grail of glasses. “My success is based on the success of wine,” he said.

“It’s an accessory to wine and it’s a waste to serve an expensive wine in a glass which can detract from, or does nothing to, enhance it.”


A big glass for red wine is essential. The wine needs a chance to open up, to breathe, to give us its best by journeying around the glass as we swish and swirl.

Fill only to a third, to allow movement. Stick your nose into the glass to appreciate the aromas — it’s part of the pleasure. A swish around the mouth, before swallowing, allows appreciation to the full. For most reds, a large glass, slightly tapered, is a good buy.

Most wines will smell and taste great in them. The wine is directed to the tip of the tongue, which will detect the wine’s sweet, fruitiness. Initially avoid the side of the tongue, where sour and acidic flavours are picked up. They blend better after a few seconds.

For the connoisseur who loves Pinot Noir, the grape most associated with Burgundy, and Nebbiolo, the Italian grape from the Piedmont region, around Turin, the best experience results from a glass that has a broader rim. This provides for a wider evaporation surface, and, as these grapes have high acidity, the wine is directed to the tip and middle of the tongue, where the fruity flavours are detected by the taste buds. Also, initially avoid the sides of the tongue, where the taste buds detect bitter flavours.

The Syrah, more-tapered wine glass is designed to get us to tilt back our heads, so the wine reaches the back of the palate, where it’s cooler. This way, we get the best of the aromatic floral and fruity flavours of this grape. Riedel scolded us for wanting our red wines warm, as this kills the aromas, because we sniff them before slurping.


Serving white wine in a small glass is a good idea, and it should taper in slightly at the top to capture the fruity aromas. Apart from a most expensive white, such as heavily oaked white Burgundy, a large glass for most white wines will spoil the aroma, revealing the less-pleasing yeast, while obscuring the fruit. There are special glasses for Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, but Mitchell & Son, who import Riedel, say that the Riesling/Chianti glass is the most versatile for whites and is also good for most red wines.


Fine, thin glasses feel good when we put them to our lips. If we can afford these, we will enjoy our wine more, just as a luxury car feels better than a basic one.

But any well-designed glass shaped like those in the photographs here will be functional. If you are buying a gift for a wine buff, one or two Riedel may please them more than a dozen cheaper.

I tested wine in the Sommelier range, from Marks & Spencer, and was impressed with the shape and feel of them.

They were not as fine as Riedel, but had the correct, wide-tulip shape. They cost €40 for four. The Riedel glasses cost from €15 to €60 for the largest-stemmed beauties.

There is a ‘four for the price of three’ Riesling/Chianti glass at mitchellandson.com. Riedel Vinum glasses are available at the Ballymaloe pop-up wine shop in Brown Thomas in Cork.

The carafes, which further enhance the wine experience, make eye-catching centrepieces.

Most wines benefit from being decanted, even into a basic jug. Do this an hour before drinking. Chill white wines (including sparkling) for no longer than an hour. Over-chilling kills aromas and tastes. As we pay so much in taxes for wine these days, we need to get the best from them. A decent (less-taxed) glass beats the system.


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