Tim James: On wine glasses

By , 15 February 2019




Lukas van Loggerenberg and his broken Zalto.

If you look carefully at the bottom left-hard corner of the photograph to the left (an inset of the original photo gives the context), you will see part of the bowl of a wineglass at a rather odd angle. And surprisingly close to the table top. The clue to an explanation lies in the slatted top of the table or, more exactly, the spaces between the slats: they are just wide enough to take the very slender stem of an unusually elegant wineglass – one from which the foot has been snapped off. A winelover of any length of experience is bound to recognise the idea of such a vitally damaged glass, and will feel a sympathetic twinge of anguish.

Especially when the glass is as expensive as the Zalto slotted into the tabletop by winemaker Lukas as Loggerenberg, shown here at the modest launch a few years back of the Carinus range, which he makes in addition to his own brand. Lukas was not in a financial position to simply throw away the damaged glass (almost useless unless you also have a regular supply of slatted tables to hand), hence the expedient. His guests had whole glasses, by the way. Ones with feet intact. (Glasses, I mean – not guests, though they too, as I recall.)

Fashions can be odd, but sometimes explicable. Just about all the new-wave winemakers I know have their sets of the lovely, airily lightweight Zalto glasses – mostly frequently the Burgundy shape. I strongly suspect that they choose this shape for their red (and white wines) rather than the Universal one, let alone the Bordeaux model, not because it suits the wine better, but because Burgundy is inspirational for their own winegrowing. If not the Zaltos, then the Gabriel Glass – which, however, comes in only one shape, closer to the “Universal”, but in two qualities, one handblown like the Zaltos and as airy, the other not. Most unusually, local prices for the Gabriels seem very good and, at about R450 each, the finer ones are quite a bit less costly than the Zaltos something over R700, and of much the same style and quality (so I use them myself – I have some of the slenderer ones for rare grand occasions or grand wines, the cheaper – R150ish – standard ones for everyday).

On the other hand, I suspect, on flimsy evidence, that many of the older school of winemakers (and winelovers), if they go for very expensive glasses, will choose to stick to the weighty name of Riedel, which has been around for so much longer. While Zalto’s range of glass-shapes seems to be expanding, it can’t begin to compete with the rather bewilderingly vast array of Riedels for different grape varieties and wine-styles, and at different quality levels but all expensive or extremely expensive. It’s undoubtedly rash of me to associate Riedel with Bordeaux and plush conservatism, and link Zalto to more fashionable Burgundy and the new-wave terroir aficionados, but I do … at least tentatively.

One weird thing, in fact, is that even those who have undergone a Riedel demonstration of the substantial effect of glass shape on wine-drinking experience are capable of walking away with their preconceptions shattered yet returning to using just one or two different glasses for all their drinking. I’ve done it myself – twice. The last time, I was so convinced by the superiority of a good white burgundy in the appropriate glass, when compared with other apparently plausible Riedels, that I swore I was going to buy it. I still haven’t – but, then, I so seldom drink good white burgundy…. Apart from my Gabriels, I do have glasses marketed as ideal for one style/variety: Speigelau glasses for burgundy, a mix-up of Spiegelau and Riedel for Bordeaux, but they pretty seldom get an outing.

For those others that want a one-shape-supposedly-fits-all glass, there’s quite a choice apart from the Gabriel I mentioned, and (presumably) the Zalto Universal, both easily available in South Africa. The latest to make headlines in our little wine world was one from Jancis Robinson, whose signature appears on the glass together with that of the designer, Richard Brendon. I must say I was sorry when it was brought out (with a lot of fanfare from Jancis), because it meant that she was no longer one of remarkably few wine writers without a crudely commercial sideline to supplement the income derived from her pen. But the glass looks lovely – its bowl rather more rounded than those of the Zalto and Gabriel. Not yet available here, as far as I know, but I suspect it soon will be, at a hefty price.

  • Tim James is one of South Africa’s leading wine commentators, contributing to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.


8 comment(s)

Please read our Comments Policy here.

    Donald Ackerman | 18 February 2019

    My own unassuming thoughts on the the vexed question regarding wine glasses and flavours, aromas etc. I’ve become quite attached to the Gabriel-Glas ‘One for All’ Gold Edition Wine Glasses since I purchased a set from Wine Cellar in Cape Town. Medium-sized, elegant, supremely seductive and sensual – I simply don’t want to stop holding these glasses. Beautiful design meets enthusiast.

    An elegant, comfortable and well-designed glass does make the experience of wine that much more pleasant. Because they’re pretty. Because they’re delicate. Because you expect them to make the wine taste better.

    Sit back, relax and take a sip… you’ve earned it.

    Donald Ackerman | 18 February 2019

    ABSTRACT: Accepted opinion among wine connoisseurs is that size and shape of a glass used to serve wine can affect color and flavor of wine. Glass manufacturers and the wine industry could benefit from a greater understanding of the relationship between glass shape and wine appreciation. However, extensive oxidation may reduce antioxidative properties of polyphenolics that are highly prized in red wines. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of geometries of three glass types (Flute, Bordeaux, Martini) on sensory perception and concentration of polyphenolic compounds in Merlot wine as a function of time. Sensory evaluation was conducted with a 12-member panel. Triangle tests were chosen to determine whether any difference in flavor could be perceived between samples stored for 0, 15 and 30 min in the three glass types. Phenolic compounds, gallic acid, caffeic acid, catechin and vanillin, were quantified using HPLC. Results indicated that the panellists could not perceive differences between wine served in different glasses even if it was exposed to air for 30 min at room temperature. Although concentration of phenolics, especially gallic acid, was affected by the exposure to air, changes were not profound enough to affect the sensory qualities of Merlot wine as judged by occasional wine drinkers.

    Unless you or your friends have golden tongues, there’s no need to worry about matching glasses to enjoy a nice glass of wine; more relevant would be paying attention to the serving temperature and beverage storage to ensure the quality of the taste.

    – The Journal of Food Quality 28 (2005) 377–385

    Kwispedoor | 18 February 2019

    Hi, Tim. Apparently “John” has been blocked, so us mere mortals can offer opinions again. My humble two cents is that the whole glass thing is nearly impossible to do blind.

    I’ve attended a Riedel tasting and one is basically cleverly guided the whole way. If you are having a Chardonnay in a Chardonnay or White Burgundy glass, plus two other glasses, guess which way your mind is going even before the first sip? And why does it matter so much where the wine hits your palate first? Less than a second later, the wine is all over your palate in any case. Even blindfolded, things like weight, balance, mouth opening and shape, thickness of the glass, length of the glass, etc. is evident. You can taste wine completely blind, but you can’t do the same with glasses.

    Obviously glasses make a difference – just compare a Zalto Burgundy with those thick Irish coffee glasses that double for wine glasses in many average restaurants. But it’s mostly about aroma and the difference in “feel”/elegance. Give me a thin, clear glass with a stem that tapers to a narrow mouth without a raised lip and I’m pretty happy. It’s a treat to drink out of various fancy glasses, but you can’t really beat the machine-made Gabriels for versatility and value.

    Tim James | 18 February 2019

    Thanks for forwarding that, Donald. My own non-scientific opinion is this: having done two extensive Riedel tastings, I am convinced that (for drinkers paying attention!) the shape of the glass can significantly affect the aromas and the very first impression of the wine in the mouth. These are important moments in experiencing and guiding the experience of the wine. Once you start swilling the wine around your mouth, though, there is surely no possible way that the shape of the glass can continue to have an effect.

    Donald Ackerman | 18 February 2019

    “Forever and a day, people have been arguing about the role that glasses play in the taste of wine. The shape, the stem, the crystal – everyone has an opinion, especially the manufacturers who tout their wares as the BEST way to taste your wine. Lending credence to some of those who think the whole debate is an overblown mess and that, barring a few key parameters a glass is a glass, is this recent news tidbit:

    Riedel, maker of wine glasses that are so much better than their competitor, just bought Spiegelau, whose wine glasses are so much better than their competitor. In a surprising move, Riedel says they will keep the Spiegelau brand alive and continue to sell their glasses without redesigning them, which begs the question, were Riedel that much better anyway…?”

    Posted by: Alder on September 27, 2004

    Donald Ackerman | 18 February 2019

    This article is about whether the correct stemware actually makes a difference in the taste of your wine. Now, I realise this may not sound all that interesting to non-wine geeks. But the piece is also a thoughtful analysis of the various types of “evidence” that have been used to support various claims about which wine glasses best enhance the experience of drinking wine. Here’s my favourite passage:

    “Georg Riedel finally seemed to be vindicated when media around the world trumpeted the results of a study conducted at the University of Tennessee. “A U.S. study found that the shape of a glass can have a big influence on chemicals in wine,” the London-based Daily Telegraph glowed, in August 2002. … The findings were cited by everyone from New Scientist magazine to American radio legend Paul Harvey. Riedel himself must have been relieved. “It is great,” he told a reporter, “that independent scientific research supports our philosophy.”

    But when I tracked down the researcher who did the study, she groaned. Then she started laughing. “I can’t believe how reporters ran away with this thing,” says Kari Russell. … First of all, Russell is bemused that nobody seemed to realize that she wasn’t a renowned scientist, but a mere college senior (she’s now working on a Ph.D.) …

    And what she finds even more bizarre, she says, is that Riedel wouldn’t have liked her findings if anybody had reported them correctly, because they don’t support his claims at all. “Glass shape does not affect the perceptions of the average consumer,” Russell told me. “That’s my conclusion.” To put it bluntly, her subjects couldn’t tell the difference between Merlot in Champagne, red-wine, or Martini glasses.

    But Russell says what galls her most is that not a single newspaper reporter who wrote about the study ever bothered to call and ask her about it. She says she figures that they wrote their articles based on another article by a reporter who heard Russell speak about her senior thesis at a meeting—and unfortunately, that reporter ignored her conclusion. Russell told me that she even called some of the newspapers to ask them to correct their articles. Nobody called her back.” – *Daniel Zwerdling

    Daniel Zwerdling is one of the best known and most acclaimed investigative journalists in America. Zwerdling has served as an adjunct professor of Media Ethics in the communications department at American University in Washington, D.C.

    John W | 15 February 2019

    I love my Gabriel Golds and have enjoyed bubbly, white and red in them (sometimes all on the same day!). I haven’t had a bad glass experience with them yet. I find Zalto’s a bit intimidating and always larger than what is actually necessary, but their champagne glasses are awesom. I still want to know why Zalto’s arrive in such a flimsy and cheap quality box, its just paper thin cardboard! We keep our Gabriels in their original box which stores and protects them perfectly. Riedel’s are great and my wife and I enjoy the one’s we received on the first night of last years Winex, much better than those silly small ones of previous years. And our travel wine glasses are Riedel gin glasses! They are perfect for gin and all wines on the go and the box fits perfectly in any picnic hamper.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Like our content?

Show your support.