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It's Time We Stopped Tasting

Posted: February 3, 2000

It's Time We Stopped Tasting
By Matt Kramer, columnist

Well, Georg Riedel has done it again. He's come up with yet another wineglass. His latest creation is a tasting glass designed to hold--get this--just 20 milliliters (or five-eighths of an ounce) of wine. That's just a tad more than a tablespoon!

Actually, the glass itself, titled the Vinum Tasting Glass, is larger than this. The wine is supposed to occupy only the hollow stem of the glass, which is close to 2 inches long and about the diameter of a nickel. It holds a tablespoon's worth of wine. To use the glass, you're supposed to place it on its side on the table and roll it around so the wine coats the cup.

According to Riedel (who has applied for a patent, no less), "at wine events, large quantities of precious wine are wasted by pouring too much into the glasses under the false impression that a larger quantity gives more information."

So now we have a glass that allows 35 portions from a single bottle. What are we dealing with here? Gold dust?

Now, I take a backseat to no one in my admiration for what Georg Riedel and his father, Claus Joseph, have accomplished. My wife and I sold all our Baccarat wineglasses and replaced them with various Riedel designs--greater wineglass love hath no man than that. I've even visited Riedel's factory and dined at his home in Kufstein, Austria. Talk about biting the hand that fed you.

Still, it's got to be said: The whole notion of a wineglass designed to offer one lousy tablespoon of wine is ridiculous. Absurd. Has fine wine become so precious--in every sense--that we want such a thing? Even century-old balsamic vinegar is ladled out more generously than that.

Wine is wonderful. Wine is great. Wine is worth cherishing, even. But it's not supposed to be stinted. It's not meant to be so sacred, so rare and removed from life that it's like receiving Communion. Wine is meant to be drunk.

Think about it for a minute. What possible "information," to use Riedel's terminology, can you get from one tablespoon of wine? Unless the stuff tastes like castor oil, you can bet not much. And I don't care how well-designed the glass may be. (Yes, I did try the Vinum Tasting Glass, and I was not convinced.)\

The issue isn't that my (former?) friend Georg has come up with yet another item in his product line. Maybe it will sell, maybe not. Business is business and you take your shot. Rather, what's important is that the very idea of such a glass tells us that something has gone awry.

I'm all for tastings. And I've seen firsthand, at various Wine Spectator events, that it is possible to have large numbers of people participate in a proper wine tasting. (In case you're interested, everyone at these events gets at least 2 ounces of wine per serving, which is four times as much as Riedel's Vinum Tasting Glass is designed to offer.)

That acknowledged, I still have to say that we've gone way overboard on this tasting thing. Paradoxical as it sounds, wine is not meant to be tasted. It's meant to be drunk. And I'll go even further: You cannot understand a wine--I mean, really understand it--until you've had it in truly full measure.

In the same way that the frugal cannot escape their consciousness about how much something costs, it is likewise impossible to appreciate a wine when all you can see is its very limitation. Saying that you've tasted a wine is like saying you once drove a Ferrari around the block. Either way, you never get out of first gear.

It's time we stopped tasting and started drinking. It's time we stopped fantasizing that only wines we can't afford are the ones worth buying. It's time we returned to what wine is supposed to be about--namely, openhanded generosity, not some social version of drip irrigation. It's time to use wineglasses--indeed, such as Riedel's many wonderful designs-- that are meant to make wine a joy, not an obsession.

Real wine life is when we can heedlessly open another bottle without a care about cost. It's when wine is lip-smackingly savored, not just tasted. In such a world, who would want a glass designed to serve a tablespoon's worth? When wine comes to us by the tablespoon--no matter what the reason--it's time to reconsider.

This column, Unfiltered, Unfined, features the opinionated inside scoop on the latest and greatest in the world of wine, brought to you each Monday by a different Wine Spectator editor. This week we hear from columnist Matt Kramer, in a column that's also appearing in the current issue of Wine Spectator. To read past Unfiltered, Unfined columns, go to the archives. And for an archive of Laube's columns, visit Laube on Wine.

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