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harvey steiman at large

Has Riedel Gone Too Far?

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Jan 31, 2007 12:22pm ET

Does the announcement that Riedel has come out with a new glass specifically designed for Oregon Pinot Noir strike you as funny as it does me? What's next? A special glass for Santa Ynez Valley Pinot Gris?

Look, I admire what Riedel has done for wine glasses as much as anyone. (To get caught up on Riedel's contributions to the world of wine, read "Old Wine in New Glasses," and "Riedel's Artful Designs," from the Dec. 15, 1999, issue of Wine Spectator.) I am old enough to remember when Georg Riedel was schlepping around the world setting up tastings of his glasses, specially designed to highlight the best elements of a specific wine, next to other fine crystal glasses. He proved to skeptics, including me, that the shape does matter, that the wines really do taste better in his glasses.

But a special glass just for Oregon Pinot Noir?

According to the press release, the new glass shape came about because the organizers of the Oregon Pinot Noir Celebration wanted to choose an existing Riedel glass for the popular festival, held in late July. So they lined up several Riedel glasses, finally narrowing the choice to two. One of them emphasized the aromas beautifully, but the other made the texture feel silkier.

Oh, the conundrum.

Back in Austria, Riedel experimented with a mixed case of Oregon Pinots and different glass shapes, finally arriving at a big glass with a flared lip to silk up the texture but a slightly narrower opening to focus the flavors. The Oregonians tried the glass and decided they had a winner.

Here's what puzzles me. Oregon vintages have exhibited some pretty wide swings lately, from superripe years such as 2001 and 2003 to much more crisp vintages such as 2004 and 2005. Will the new glass be best for those different vintages, or will we need different glasses for different vintages?

For the record, I use Riedel glasses myself. I have a short-stemmed all-purpose glass for everyday drinking, which seems to make all my wines taste the way I expect them to taste. I have hand-blown claret and Burgundy glasses for special occasions. I like white wines and wines from the Cabernet family in the claret glass, and I find that Syrahs and big Italian reds do beautifully in the big Burgundy bowls, as do my Oregon Pinots.

Georg is going to have to prove I need a separate glass to really enjoy my Beaux Frères and Bergströms. Otherwise, I am just fine with those big Burgundy beauties.

David A Zajac
January 31, 2007 2:38pm ET
Wow, I also use Riedel glasses daily, and have five seperate glasses, but one for Oregon pinot strikes me as over the top...comparable to different bottlings of those pinots based upon the different rows the vines are located in. Seems too far fetched, I will pass.
William Newell
Buffalo, NY —  January 31, 2007 3:53pm ET
We, too, have Riedel Cabernet, Burgundy, and Chardonnay glasses for special occasions, but Oregon Pinot Noir glasses are just silly. I also don't like the stemless wine glasses they introduced a while ago. We were served wine in stemless glasses in a restaurant recently, and it was like drinking from a water glass. Oddly, this place served water in stemmed glasses.
Larry Schaffer
Central Coast —  January 31, 2007 4:24pm ET
Harvey,I for one LOVE the idea of a special glass for Santa Ynez Valley Pinot Gris :-)I am constantly amazed at how different the same wine smells from different glasses and therefore have no doubt that these new special glasses will cause the wines to smell slightly different. That said, as your title suggests, perhaps it is too much!
Luke Bowes
January 31, 2007 5:02pm ET
A few years ago, I was given a set of Riedel glasses specifically designed for Inniskillin ice wine, complete with the Inniskillin logo on the foot of the glass. Wonderful with Inniskillin and every other desert wine that I've tried. And his other glasses that I've owned or tried do similarly well in their applications. I'm sold on their value and certainly can't fault the man's ambition and dedication!
Domaine Drouhin Oregon
Dayton, OR —  January 31, 2007 5:23pm ET
Hi Harvey,Greetings from the Dundee Hills. I completely understand your skepticism: I had the same questions myself when I had the chance to spend time with the Oregon Pinot Noir glass late last year. Is this glass really necessary? Is it just marketing hype? Why bother when Riedel already has several excellent Pinot Noir glasses available?Well, based on my experience, I can tell you that I¿m ordering the glasses for myself and for the winery. I love the way it presents Pinot Noir, the way it brings out its best qualities, and the shape is beautiful. Wine lovers will make up their own minds, and they¿ll certainly have the chance here in Oregon as many wineries are buying stems for their tasting rooms. For what it¿s worth, I think of the OPNG as an excellent new Pinot Noir glass that was developed collaboratively between Oregon wineries, the IPNC and Riedel. The name simply recognizes the origins of the glass. Of course, I have some work ahead of me to find out how Pinot Noir from other regions fare in the glass, but I wouldn¿t be surprised if this becomes an a favorite of Pinot Noir lovers everywhere.Kind Regards,David MillmanDomaine Drouhin Oregon
Russell Bevan
Sonoma Mountain —  January 31, 2007 5:59pm ET
Dear Harvey,Riedel went over the top a while ago. I use only Riedel stemware and I am a huge fan of them, but some of the new products and decanters are obviously made purely for marketing purposes.I think I started feeling a little different about them when they introduced stems, without a stem.All the best,Russell Bevan, Bevan Cellars
Ben Brady
Ames, —  January 31, 2007 6:06pm ET
It is no doubt too much. What is next, unique glasses for a specific vintage? Bottom line, the shape of a glass can have a profound impact on how a wine comes accross, but this is over the top.

...of course my wife and I have several Riedels and we love them all...
Jason Kadushin
Seattle, WA —  January 31, 2007 6:37pm ET
This begs the question - if the glass makes the wine, smell, taste and feel different - what is the true smell, taste and feel of the wine?

Personally, I think its a marketing gimmick.
Alejandro Duclaud
Mexico City —  January 31, 2007 7:39pm ET
I can not understand why anybody could complain or be bothered by having Riedel give consumers more choices!!! By the way, marketing purposes are always the main driver for producing any sort of glass by Riedel, not only for Oregon Pinot Noir. This is not philanthropy...
Eric Treiber
LaGrange Park, IL —  January 31, 2007 7:54pm ET
Harvey:Your specific question was: "Have they gone too far?" I would say they have only gone too far if they do not find a market for these new OPNG's as referred to above by David Millman of Domaine Drouhin. As long as there is a market (see Russell Bevan's comments above), then products should be introduced to satisfy "the urge". I have several different style Riedel glasses and do not intend to purchase OPNG's, although my cellar abounds with Oregon Pinots. But I will not fault a company for developing a product for which a market may/will exist. Ah...the virtues of disposable income!!
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  January 31, 2007 7:58pm ET
If you think of these new glass shapes as alternative choices, rather than the glass you must use for those particular wines, it makes more sense. As David Millman says, this could be the "new and improved" glass for ALL Pinot Noir-based wines, not just Oregon. Just as I use the claret glass for Chardonnay, it could be the new de facto standard.

I don't want to stand in the way of progress. I just resist the idea that we must use only one glass with a certain wine, and another glass for another, similar wine. With more choices, we can find the glass (or a few glasses) we like and use it (them) for a lot of wines. I can go with that.
Tim Sylvester
Santa Monica, CA —  January 31, 2007 8:04pm ET
I agree with Jason, it's all about marketing, about moving products, creating demand to sell more crystal. I use a non-Riedel crystal glass for all of my reds (it's both gorgeous and has a better heft than Riedel) and a Riedel Chard glass for all of my whites. Having too many glasses means more breakage, among other things. Too much indeed.
Scott Young
Richmond, Va —  January 31, 2007 8:41pm ET
The stemless glassware from Reidel seems to be taking quite a hit here . . . I own a tasting set of the stemless (along with quite a few that have stems) from Reidel and while I may not choose to drink wine out of them on a daily basis, I feel the stemless glasses definitely have a place. My wife and I use them when drinking wine on the couch (no stem makes it much easier to relax your arm without worrying about tipping your glass as much if you get tired) and they are perfect for picnics!!! Ever tried to balance a filled wine glass with a stem in the grass??? It can be quite challenging and will almost assure that you will lose at least a glass of the wine back to the earth from which it came. The lower center of gravity and more secure balance has won me over on the glasses. Use them in the right situations and I think all wine lover's will grow to love them . . . it took some time for me too.
Charles J Stanton
Eugene, OR —  January 31, 2007 9:30pm ET
Harvey, being an Oregon homeboy, I do applaud the effort put in by Riedel to celebrate the local pinots, but I don't think I will run out and buy a set just yet, as I still love my burgundy glasses for OPN.

I must admit I am holding out for them to design one that holds a full 750ml bottle with room to swirl, has one (and preferably two) palm width handles for stablity, made of impact resistant fine crystal that is dishwasher safe, and has a picture of a scantily clad Scarlett Johansen that appears at the bottom when you drain the sucker straight up
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  January 31, 2007 11:16pm ET
Ah yes, Charles. I see you like 'em full-bodied. Er, wines, that is.
Robert Mathews
January 31, 2007 11:53pm ET
Hooray for Oregon to get a top notch company located half way across the globe to recognize their own style (or many styles) of Pinot noir. Is it necessary? Just about as much as a 92 pt. wine that costs $100 vs. a 92 pt. wine that costs $25. Either way, somebody will buy them and be happy. Companies should never rest on their laurels and should keep producing new products. Good for Riedel and the people that love these new stems.
Vinideus In The Pearl
Portland, OR —  February 1, 2007 2:03am ET
Cool. This is exciting news! I have been waiting for this new glass to come out for sometime. We in Oregon are very proud of our Pinots (and other varietals) and to have a company like Riedel want to help develop an instrument to accentuate our wines means a great deal to us. If Burgundy can have their own glass, why can't we?
Paul Chiu
February 1, 2007 9:20am ET
While the debut of these glasses does much to ingratiate Riedel with Oregon producers, it is way over the top and makes wine way more complicated than it needs to be. Good marketing/sales ploy for Riedel to garner more revenue on perceived qualitative benefits. Unfortunately, I don't think it's worth the incremental cost.
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  February 1, 2007 11:38am ET
And here I thought Riedel had ''jumped the shark'' with the stemless glasses, until I read Scott's post above. It all seems rather ridiculous to me, but I am an avid free-market capitalist so Riedel is free to do what they want and people are free to buy their many versions of stemware. I'll stick with my low-end, easy to replace (cost-wise) Spiegelau glasses. I've never had anyone complain yet... -Jim
Chris Lavin
Long Beach, CA —  February 1, 2007 8:12pm ET
Have any of you tried Eisch (breathable) stemware? I find them to be superb (albeit not for everything all the time) - Eisch are especially good for young wines that require more time to open out. I recently had a V Girardin Charmes Chambertin 2003 in Riedel vs Eisch and the Eisch fleshed the wine out and enhanced the fabulous fruit flavors. The Eisch glass acts like a 3-4 hour decant. I use Restaurant Riedel in my restaurant but I also carry about 12 Eisch just for fun (also, because they are expensive in comparison).
William C & Donna Foureman
Cincinnati, OH —  February 1, 2007 9:56pm ET
Riedel is as brilliant a marketing company as there is- I just counted and found that between gifts and purchases we have 10 different versions of Riedel wine glass, every one of which gets used. I too pooh-poohed the stemless glasses until the other players in my monthly poker game kept knocking my stemmed glass over with their elbows at our crowded table. Got the big stemless glass, problem solved- not only tough to knock over but even when it is it doesn't spill the wine due to its shape. And the wine tastes fine- makes me reconsider whether there's even a point to stemmed glasses.
James Peterson
San Antonio, Texas —  February 2, 2007 9:04am ET
...makes me reconsider whether there's even a point to stemmed glasses. Aesthetics, for one thing. Plus, doesn't the wine warm up more easily with a stemless glass? It sure seems like it would. And finally, I hate fingerprints on the bowl part of wine glasses (just one my many bizarre pet peeves). - Jim
Guus Hateboer
Netherlands —  February 2, 2007 10:56am ET
I just love Riedel's chocolate milk glasses, they are superbly bringing out the dark flavors of mud, cow sweat and wet straw. They give you the feel that you're milking the cow yourself on a hillside in Austria, with some Heidi next to you, eating a chocolate bar. It's quite amazing what these guys at Riedel can do... If one would only drink Oregon Pinot Noir, then I can imagine that that someone buys Oregon Pinot Noir glasses, and then Riedel makes money. Fine with me, let the money roll, good for Oregon's economy, good for Austria's economy. Cheers!
Dan Jaworek
Chicago —  February 2, 2007 12:31pm ET
Its just another choice for the consumer. If I bought a specific glass for EVERY wine I drink I couldn't afford to drink wine. I bought a handful of shapes to cover the bases but its not possible to keep that much stemware on hand. I have the Bordeaux, Pinot/Burg, a Sav. Blanc, and Champagne flutes. Everything I drink has to find a home in one of them. Dan J.
R David Mishalove Md
Wallingford, —  February 2, 2007 2:15pm ET
I love Riedel glasses, although I use primarily the chardonnay glasses for chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, and the Bordeaux glasses for cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir (My palate is good and I could not see a great deal of difference with the Burgundy glass). A question: have the Oregon pinot noir tastings been done truly "blind", ie, blindfold the tasters and have them sample the same wine/same bottle in different shaped glasses? Has Riedel gone to far, with too many "toys" for those with too much disposable cash? I'd rather put some of it into good wines...
Robert Caruana Jr
East Islip, NY —  February 2, 2007 6:00pm ET
"Has Riedel gone too far?" - How is this any different than most of the other glasses in their series which were originally made for a specific wine region. For example, looking at their Sommeliers series, you have glasses made for (and called) Bordeaux, Burgundy, Hermitage, Loire, Chablis, Rheingau, Montrachet, Sauternes and Alsace; not to mention 2 different Champagne glasses ("Vintage Champagne" and just "Champagne"), as well as a "Sparkling Wine" glass. The only difference I see is that these are all European regions. Therefore, why would you think an Oregon Pinot Noir glass is going too far for a company that already has 3 separate glasses made for wine coming from the same grapes - "Champagne", "Vintage Champagne" and "Sparkling Wine"?

Also Harvey, you write "I just resist the idea that we must use only one glass with a certain wine, and another glass for another, similar wine." I doubt Riedel is saying that we must use this glass, but is simply offering consumers an alternative to their other glasses; and apparently thorough research has determined that the new glass makes Oregon wine (in general) taste better. I don't see anything wrong with that.
Robb W Leblanc
Keizer, Oregon —  February 3, 2007 7:15pm ET
Like many wine drinkers, I can honestly say that I was very skeptical about the value of Riedel glasses and how they compare to everyday glasses."The proof is in the pudding", as the famous saying goes. The glasses do enhance almost every aspect of the wine tasting ritual. I work in a winery tasting room in Oregon, and I can say that I plan to lobby hard for these after I have been convinced that there is a measurable difference. It will be another tool to market to our visitors. Instead of our regular tasting glasses, we may offer these to visitors for a reasonable fee.Does Oregon Pinot Noir need this glass?Absolutely not,but it may help to sell our Pinot Noir more effectively.
Cole Danehower
Portland —  February 3, 2007 11:40pm ET
Hello Harvey:It seems to me there is nothing prescriptive about the existence of a varietal-specific, and now a geography-specific, wineglass shape. As you said previously, it is another option for Oregon Pinot lovers: nobody is going to demand that you only drink Oregon Pinot from this (or any other glass). It will always be a matter of personal choice. Yet having another option is pretty cool, especially when that option has credibility behind it. This glass shape was not based on a whim, it was based on tasting experience. I participated in the second selection round with a number of Oregon winemakers, sommeliers, retailers, and experienced local tasters. Each glass alternative we tasted, including some standard Riedel shapes as well as others, presented the wines differently. We started with 7 glasses and after each round tasters had to "vote off the island" one glass. When we got down to two consensus survivors, the ultimate glass was selected in a final taste off vote that was overwhelming. The selected shape survived multiple rounds of tasting with multiple top quality Oregon Pinot noirs, by experienced Oregon Pinot noir tasters. The glass is certainly a marketing plus. Is there something bad about that? Only if the marketing is based on a sham story. The Oregon Pinot noir glass is no sham. Its shape and selection was based on the same kind of "subjective testing" that we all do when we score or describe wines (and as our opinions vary, so will our perception of what this glass does to the experience of Oregon pinot noir. Does that mean you "have to" drink Oregon Pinot noir from the "official" glass? Of course not. But from my own experience, drinking Oregon Pinot noir from the new Riedel glass will give you a different, and I happen to think enhanced, experience of Oregon's overarching Pinot style (and what that style is, is a good topic for another debate!). --Cole Danehower
William C & Donna Foureman
Cincinnati, OH —  February 4, 2007 10:34pm ET
Jim Peterson might have a keener aesthetic eye than me, but I think the Riedel stemless glasses have a cool, modern look that appears to be catching on a bit (I ate at a pretty hip place last night that used facsimile Riedel stemless glasses for water, though not yet wine). The big glasses don't warm red wine up noticeably because you're gripping well above the wine in the 18 or so ouncers I use. And, I do try to keep my hands clean. All in all, I think Riedel has proven that stems are not a sine qua non for even us geeks to use to drink good wine, and also made a buck or two off of the insight.
James Buckley
ny —  February 5, 2007 2:52pm ET
i've got an idea for riedel and other glassmakers.maybe they could research on how to make a glass that mutes or minimizes tca and 'brett' in wines.instead of the consumer taking a hit for several hundred dollars on a corked bottle,glassware that could lessen the impact would be desired.seems to me that there would be a larger market for this use.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  February 5, 2007 3:45pm ET
Maybe Georg Riedel can work magic with brett, but I doubt if a glass can ameliorate the effects of TCA on a wine. At low levels, it seems to mute the other flavors. A glass that magnifies those charcteristics is likely to magnify the TCA character as well. At higher levels, it's a lost cause.
James Walter
July 2, 2007 9:19am ET
Hey Harvey-I know this isn't exactly pertinent to this post, but I had a bottle of 2003 Sine Qua Non Omega over the weekend. It was a very good, obviously New World Pinot Noir that was a "fruit bomb."Despite trying it in several different glasses (including two different Reidels) it tasted "carbonated" and had lots of tiny bubbles in the bottoms of all the glasses.Any idea about the source of the bubbles?Thanks!
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  July 2, 2007 11:58am ET
If the wine tasted fine, probably the bubbles resulted from trapped carbon dioxide in the wine at bottling and a really good cork that didn't let any air in or out. If the wine had a strange undertaste, it could have refermented in the bottled.

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