Varietal Specific Glasses: Does it make a difference?

My first post of The Wine Drinker's Bar series was on glassware. In that post, I mention that glassware does make a difference when it comes to drinking wine, and I truly believed that but did not think a whole lot past general white vs. red. However, on our recent trip to the mountains, I was lucky enough to attend a varietal specific glassware class hosted by Riedel at my favorite wine shop, Mountaintop Wine Shoppe. Sidenote: If you're ever in Highlands, North Carolina, stop by because they are WONDERFUL. I was a little skeptical at first about these different glasses, but let me tell you... this class was fascinating! If you ever have the opportunity to go to one, do not pass up the opportunity!

We arrived at the class to find each chair had four Riedel varietal specific glasses and then a "joker" glass.

The joker glass was your typical wine glass you'd find at a casual restaurant or in a tasting room. It was thicker glass and the bowl was on the smaller side. The four Riedel varietal specific restaurant glasses we got were: Riesling/Sauvignon Blanc/Zinfandel, Chardonnay/Viognier, Pinot Noir and Cabernet/Merlot. It's important to note that the glasses we were given are their "commercial" restaurant glasses and are a little sturdier, and less expensive, than the varietal specific glasses you can find elsewhere (ex: Williams-Sonoma). The Riedel host even said he washes his in the dishwasher!

The Riedel host would pour an appropriate wine in each of the respective glasses and we got to go through the typical tasting process of calling out aromas and flavors. Then we'd pour the wine to the joker glass or "incorrect" Riedel glass to see what happened. What was the result? Across the board, the wines lost their aromas and the flavors were off in the wrong glasses!

For example, we had a crisp, delicious and aromatic Sauvignon Blanc, but in the joker glass, I could not smell a thing. It was such a shame to miss out on that citrus aroma! We also learned that the glasses are designed for the wine to hit your tongue in a specific way. To continue with the previous example, Sauvignon Blanc is a highly acidic wine, so you want the wine to avoid the sides of your tongue where the acid flavor is picked up by your taste buds. To help with this, the varietal specific glass "funnels" the wine to a point in the glass, so that when you take a sip, it hits the tip of your tongue first where your taste buds sense sweetness. This helps balance out the high acidity from Sauvignon Blanc. 

Long story short? I'm a believer in varietal specific glasses. The group universally agreed that there was an enhancement in the wine when it was in the correct glass. Note that I said "enhanced"... it's not like the wines always tasted bad in the joker glass or other Riedel glasses, but they weren't being showcased at their full potential. So what does that mean for you as a "normal" consumer? Well, it really means one thing: Think about what varietals you typically drink. If it's one or two, consider investing in a varietal specific glass. If you always drink Chardonnay, then it may be worth investing in a Chardonnay specific glass. Similarly, given my new found love of Pinot Noir and the fact that we agreed the Pinot Noir glass really helped with enhancing aromas and flavors, we purchased in a couple of Pinot Noir glasses to have at home. By no means is it necessary, and I stand by my comments in my glassware post, but it's just something to consider. Also, these could make a great birthday, holiday, or wedding gift for a wine enthusiast you know!

To summarize, yes, I believe varietal specific glasses do make a difference. They allow the wine to be showcased in its best light. Are they necessary? Absolutely not. More importantly, though, if you ever come across a Riedel class, definitely try it out for yourself!

Note: I know this post sounds like a pitch for Riedel, but this post was not sponsored by them. I just loved these glasses and wanted to share. If you are interested in trying them out, I found the Riedel Wine Series glasses on Amazon that appear to be similar in design and price as the ones we received from the class. This is an affiliate link.