Does the Wineglass Really Matter???

I was browsing through some older food magazines while at the beach a couple of weeks ago, and found an interesting article I had seen and read and read about (it caused a bit of a stir) some 8 years ago. It was written by Daniel Zwerdling for Gourmet Magazine and entitled “Shattered Myths”… It’s a a good read for anyone interested in whether the type of glass you drink out of really matters with respect to the taste of the wine you are drinking… Some 28% of readers polled did feel that the glass mattered, while 72% did not. Personally, I don’t drink enough wine to really consider myself to care much about the issue, but on the other hand, we do have several types of Riedel and Baccarat crystal wine glasses in the cupboards, as well as many cheaper and more generic wine glasses and have swilled everything from a $5 bottle of wine to some truly fine vintages that were probably astronomically priced. The line in the article that caught my attention was “Studies at major research centers in Europe and the U.S. suggest that Riedel’s claims are, scientifically, nonsense.” And the author goes back and forth trying to find some way to explain the belief that the type of glass matters… He basically concludes that the actual glass may not matter, but perceptions do… so if you shelled out a lot of money for a sexy, supple, beautiful glass, you are more likely to believe your wine is going to taste better. If you read the Gourmet article, don’t skip the last little blurb on how media blew a tiny study out of proportion, and reported the findings, but dead wrong compared to the conclusions. Again, personally, I am with Mr. Zwerdling in that I don’t think it makes a noticeable difference for a casual wine drinker (and probably not for a regular wine drinker as well), but will I throw out my Riedel’s and Baccarat’s? Certainly not. But I probably won’t buy any more until the rest of my dinner table is stunningly well equipped… :)

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24 Responses

  1. I like the sound of crystal. I like the colour of wine seen through crystal, I like that my lips don’t have to part wide when drinking wine from crystal. But that’s just me :-) Does crystal make wine taste better? Hell, no. If it’s plonk, it’s plonk. Cheers, MM!

  2. I think the short answer is No, the glass makes no difference whatsoever. I live in a country where wine is a daily ocurrence and is drunk as a normal pleasure. What matters usually is what you drink it with – ie the food. Both should be good, go together and make you and your family and friends happy. That said, for special wines for grander ocassions, they may merit a bit of rigmarole with temperature, airing, decanting etc. This is not pretension but actually a kind of respect, for the wine and for the drinkers. If you go through these rituals you could then drink the wine out of an old jar and it would taste the same. But this is not an argument for throwing out your Reidels and Baccarats – lucky you for having them and I’ve never seen a table of yours less than perfect! I own none of the above, the main consideration in Europe being the price of real estate – I wouldn’t have anywhere to put them even if I did have them! But I have stayed in some grand houses where the wines were distinguished, but the glassware quite ordinary.

  3. I personally had the honor to meet Professor Riedel himself. He was talking about the “right and wrong glass” for any kind of drinks (not only wine, but also champaign, grappa, brandy and so on. The whole evening they were serving the drinks at first in a “regular or wrong” glass and then in a Riedel glass. I only can tell you that from that evening on (experience) I’m trying to use the “right” glass as much as I can and I stocked up with some Riedel glasses after and after. It is really a big difference!

  4. Unless one is a serious wine drinker, the difference between glass and crystal is probably minute and will most likely be in the area of colour, the way the wine clings to the side of the glass, which most of us won’t really mind one way or the other.

    Still, most people are visual and make assumptions based on what they see. I’d be willing to bet that most people will automatically say that wine served in an expensive glass is an expensive wine :)

    I like Riedel’s contemporary designs, and was pleasantly surprised to see them at Landmark and SM a few years ago.

    Over time have learned that aerators are a good thing, and plastic/paper cups are not (unless everyone’s tipsy already and won’t notice).

  5. Dieter, that’s the point of the article. And in fact, it concludes that it is perhaps perception, not fact, that the Riedel’s make wines taste better. Best to read it with an open mind, not because you have invested in expensive stemware… It’s akin to my preferring Staub’s to Le Creuset… blindfolded, I’m not sure one can taste the difference between the two… or between a much cheaper pot by another maker either…

  6. Does it matter? no..I drink good wine with fancy glasses. Ditto with Socky.

  7. I’ve done side by side tastings of wine in the right Reidel glass and the same wine in an ordinary glass and I can tell you there is a definite difference in taste. Is it all in my head? Maybe… But the question is, does that make it any less real? It is perception alright, perhaps in the same way we perceive red wine as red. Colors are, after all, just in our heads.

  8. Perhaps not as much difference as Mr. Riedel would like us to perceive but he is after all, a glass manufacturer and the more demand for his many splendored shapes he can drum up, the better for his bottom line. On the other hand perception seems to be dismissed in articles such as the one quoted as just a pigment of one’s imagination but did anyone ever ask himself how else our senses process the outside world but through perception. As for myself, I avoid pouring wine into dixie cups even in picnics because I feel it somehow diminishes whatever I am offering.

  9. Just ask yourself why a lot of thewine glasses now are a look alike of Riedel glasses! Because they are bad?

  10. the scientific way to test if glasses (or any other factor) affects wine taste is to do a blind testing. google it and the conclusion is, the quality of a wine glass DOES NOT affect wine taste. subjectively, perceptions could be affected but objectively, the answer is NO.

    in the same way that blind tasting found out that rankings by wine experts does not affect wine taste (highly ranked wines not necessarily better than lowly ranked wines). and so with price (expensive wines not necessarily better that cheap wines).

  11. Dieter, no one is saying Riedel is bad, just that science doesn’t in any way confirm what Riedel claims in their marketing materials… (btw, as a first time commenter and apparently not a previous reader of the blog, you seem remarkably invested in your Riedel’s, if you know what I mean)… Hunter, interestingly, I read somewhere else that even if I am a Coke fanatic, in certain types of blind taste tests, I could probably be confused between coke and pepsi… so yes, I do think that blind tastings are the best for anything… but as Footloose mentions above, we rarely blind taste anything… and are inevitably influenced by perception, and other non-taste related factors… Now, which would I rather quaff my wine out of… the Riedel or the Baccarat? For me, it’s the latter, for many of the reasons Socky raises… it feels incredibly substantial and has presence, the crystal is superb, the candle light refracts nicely, I like the heavy lip… etc. But then again, it’s a pain to wash and maintain, you probably imbibe some lead over the years, you don’t use it enough to justify the cost, and it takes up cupboard space… :) Oh, for the bargain savvy, I find that lots of guests always comment about our water or softdrinks glasses at home, that are very thin but relatively durable glass, made in Poland or thereabouts and sold at Crate & Barrel for just $3 a piece…

  12. Loved all of the incisive comments, whether pro or anti. I guess if we really adopt a scientist’s approach to investigating phenomena then there should be little or no difference.

    But who wants to do that or does that on a regular basis? Doesnt it take away all the fun and romance of drinking fine wine and good food? Related to this issue is changing wine packaging- screwcaps vs cork, bottled wine vs tetra pack, etc.

    Also related is beer from a can vs a beer from a bottle.

    I’ve shared with Marketman before the experiences of our little group of wine enthusiasts who has given these topics much thought in the past. Our finding is that the wine glass matters- but it’s not its brand or price; its the shape and the balance of the glass.

    If the battle is an expensive wine glass vs a less expensive one, the difference should be negligible. But if it’s a wine glass (expensive or not) vs a plastic or paper cup, or a coffee mug, the latter diminishes the experience. And that affects the taste as you perceive it.

    Plastic forks in a fine dining restaurant? Come on. :)

  13. Even Though I’m located in Germany, I have reading your blog pretty frequently over the last few years. May wife’s family is living in General Santos City, that’s why I’m pretty interested in Philippine food and blogs. Since I love to cook and been doing almost all the cooking in our house, even the Philipinne dishes, I just have to get some new ideas all the time.
    I’m living in Würzburg, Gy which is surrounded by a lots of vineyard, so I do have some experience with wine. Before I did not believe that the kind of glass matters about the taste of the wine, like almost everybody. But when I was introduced do the Riedel glass about 15 years ago at a business dinner and then later met Prof. Riedel in person. This was really a great experience! I do have the feeling that I’m a little misunderstood in my comments. I don’t want to say that the Riedel brand is the best glass to drink wine in, but like ariel says it is all the shape of the glass that really matters. And this is exactly what Riedel is saying and they were they first ones who brought different glasses on the market. Now there are so many glasses on the market which have almost the same shape and they are also great!
    But the fact is that Riedel has changed the way we are drinking our wine. When you visit our restaurants here to drink some, you will notice that they all have changed their glasses and not serving their wine anymore like the used to do some ten or fifteen years ago.

  14. An objectively measured superiority of one wine over another is rarely the thing. As Josephine brought it up above, to the bulk of drinkers in wine producing regions, what you pair it with takes precedence while to the rest of us who have acquired the taste, we tend to lean more on the ritual and romance surrounding its serving. I own a few pieces of Herr Riedel’s tasting glass myself and admire the finely honed nuance of their forms but at least to one writer I read who makes his living evaluating wine, there is just too many of them. As fans of this blog occasionally chuckle about, you can be overwhelmed by kitchen cupboards full of single-use implements you know.

  15. i totally understand why some people would like to take their wine in a nice wine glass. but it is also true that fancy glass doesn’t do it for me. its the company, the conversation or just the occasion that is a factor to my own wine appreciation.

    the thing about subjective measurement is that it differs from one person to the next. one person might want it one way and the other person might want it the opposite way. both are neither right nor wrong. who is to say that drinking fine vintage wine in a Styrofoam cup is not giving the wine justice? remember the last scene of the movie “Sideways” where the lead character basically said, fuck the conventions and accouterments of wine drinking, i’ll drink my fine wine in a styrofoam cup and i will not do it any other way!

    to answer a definitive question like “does wine glass really matter” one needs an objective measurement. subjective opinions make for fun and friendly discussions but it will not help you in answering the questions raised.

  16. Quote: “so if you shelled out a lot of money for a sexy, supple, beautiful glass, you are more likely to believe your wine is going to taste better”

    You could replace the word ‘glass’ with ‘wine’ and this statement would be true for the majority of people.

    Wine is a Serious Hobby in our household to the extent where travel is planned around wine (and food) and wine is purchased not infrequently by the case. But while we have a considerable investment in our cellar’s contents, we have little patience for pretension. Wine tastings are frequent, often informal with a few friends who are also serious wine aficionados. Shape IS important and we have demonstrated that repeatedly ourselves at wine tastings, primarily because it allows better appreciation of what the wine smells like (which is a huge influence on the taste of the wine–think about what you can/can’t taste when you have a cold). *However*, this is true mainly in extreme comparisons–a Dixie cup versus a decently shaped wine glass (by no means do I mean this must be a Riedel) with an adequately large volume and shape to allow swirling. I like a glass with decent balance that feels good in the hand. Personally I care very little for most cut-glass or cut-crystal glasses because their shapes are just wrong, or the glass too heavy–most antique crystalware is in this category and I would not serve my wines in them because I care more for how the wine tastes than for the prettiness of a glass. I don’t think that there is a discernible difference between a glass ostensibly designed for Bordeaux and one designed for Barolo (and yes, I have tried a comparison). Certainly I would never spend the money on what I think is a marketing ploy–those funds are much better spent on the Barolo itself. We do have Riedel glasses, but also glasses from other makers, including some very serviceable ones from Ikea that cost less than a dollar each, are dishwasher safe, and stack nicely for storage. The crystal (inherited) languishes in storage…

  17. I’m with Ariel and Kurzhaar, I like wines quite a bit and do have a little wine cellar/cooler at home, but do not pretend to be an expert on the subject. From the moment I saw your question I wanted to specify that it was the shape of the glass more than the kind of glass. And yes it seems many of the Baccarats and Reidels are just shaped wrong.
    I also prefer my San Miguel Beer in a bottle, my wines with corks, and eating in Jollibees that still have the metal utensils. But that’s just me.

  18. This post is truly amusing. I am not a wine drinker but in my day I have drank many pints of Guinness. I believe that the best glass for Guinness has to be bulbous shaped at the top. I also believe that draught Guinness will not taste the same from any other shape of glass. As for drinking Guinness from a can, well what can I say.


  19. Not that Baccarat wine glass are shaped wrong but if you were completing your collection of traditional crystal pattern, you might come across shapes that might be dated and not ideally suited for commonly served wines. If your primary consideration however, is wine-friendliness (and wallet-friendliness is at the bottom of your list), there is Baccarat’s Perfection red wine glass that was designed to specifications provided by the wine merchants of Bordeaux as early as 1933. The pieces making up their more recent Oenology series were designed in collaboration with France’s leading wine connoisseurs of the time. Their Oenology tulip is about the best glass you can sip champagne from although it can leave you a whimpering wreck if you use them for toasting. Their Perfection medium brandy glass is exactly that, perfect for imbibing noble eau de vie and dare I say, nothing at all to sniff at. Overall, as France’s haute crystal producer, they are up to date with current trends in wine appreciation.

    As to Reidel, their wide range of glass narrowly focused on specific varietals is to say the least, confounding. They should get the credit though for cost justifiable and beautifully designed wine glass that can withstand rough handling in restaurant settings and washing in powerful commercial dish washers.

  20. @footloose

    Thanks for informing us of Baccarat’s contemporary lines. Wasnt aware of this. Though I can barely afford them, my impression of Baccarat before is that appeals to those who are fond of middle ages/royalty/medieval history stuff.

    I stick to Riedels and Schott Zwiesels. When outside, even the Ocean brand will do, if the wine isnt that special.

  21. Would clinking (or sonic vibration) of the glass or crystal chemically or otherwise affect the quality or taste of the wine? Drinking wine from a vessel made of bamboo or coconut shell? Would Chinese foods taste better using non-metallic chopsticks (and scoop) than metallic knives, spoons, and forks? Food on high-end chinaware or banana leaves? To what degree does metalware affect food, particularly acidic ones?

  22. Tony, if I had to guess, most stainless steel metalware should probably be pretty taste neutral. Silver would likely react a bit with acid, you can see the impact if you put acidic dishes in a silver bowl… Bamboo or wood might retain some flavors from a previous meal. Brass (as in those ornate Thai utensils that any traveling family in the 1960’s-1970’s seem to have a set off are probably amongst the worst in terms of “flavor”… traditionally, arte and science recommend mother of pearl or bone for caviar, though I did read somewhere that eating caviar with a clean plastic spoon is just as neutral and non-impacting… But then again, this is off the top of my head… The ONLY flatware I really avoid using is brass. Otherwise, I use silver, stainless, ceramic, wood, plastic depending on the meal or location of the meal…

  23. @Tony Bu, Is it not just old fashioned habit that we find slurping Chinese noodle soup in a china bowl helped along to the mouth with chopsticks and a porcelain spoon so satisfying? I am sure there is no underlying mechanical justification for that since with the same grain food (processed wheat) and essentially the same shape and texture, we deal with strands of spaghetti by picking and winding them around on our fork.

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