I stopped by the American Restaurant last night to hear George Riedel talk about his famous glassware. Don't worry -- I'm not going bourgeois on you. But I was interested to see if Riedel glass really does make a difference with wine.
The conclusion: yes, but at a price. My price was having to listen to the Austrian Riedel dress down many of the 70 or so wine aficionados in the room. I had flashbacks to Catholic School and teachers yelling at me to sit up straight. Half the time, Riedel seemed to be joking around, but the other half he just seemed like a jerk, especially when calling out two waiters who had been whispering to each other.
Still, Riedel is a born showman. He put plastic glasses next to his hand-blown glasses and asked people to taste from both and see if they noticed a difference, which, of course, they did. "What I am doing is opening your eyes," he said, obviously excited to see people's reactions.
To his credit, every wine I tasted out of a Riedel glass came across differently and felt more three-dimensional than wine sipped from a normal glass. But because Riedel was coaching us the entire time on what to look for, I can't rule out the placebo effect.
What these glasses no doubt do is cover the nose better than a
normal glass, bringing more smell into each sip and, thus, more flavor.
Riedel even joked that when he goes to a restaurant and they don't
serve his glasses, he'll ask for a brandy snifter to get the same
There is no denying that Riedel glasses are beautiful to look
at. They're almost worth buying just to hold and examine in detail because the glass itself is so delicate and fine. It's no wonder some are displayed in the Museum of Modern Art. But George
Riedel doesn't care for that. "If you want to insult me, say my glasses
are pretty," he chastened his audience. "They're meant to be instruments."
Expensive instruments. Riedel was showing off his
sommeliers series of glasses, each of which retails for more than $100. (Check eBay, where sellers often offer good deals on Riedel.)
"When people ask me how much should I pay for a wineglass, I tell them: how ever much you pay for wine. If you drink a $50 bottle, you need a
$50 glass. The pricing should be one to one."
Since my current drink
choices tend toward the price of the plastic cup, that last point was lost on me. But the tasting did make me believe if I ever were to drink
wines in the rarefied three-figure price range, a Riedel glass wouldn't
be such a bad investment.