To Have Class, Use the Right Glass

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To Have Class, Use the Right Glass

It's Not Just What You Drink, It's What You Drink It From

North Korea's eccentric "Dear Leader," Kim Jong-il, drank his red wine bottoms-up at the historic North-South Korea summit in Pyongyang last June. Leaders of both countries toasted peace and reunification between the two Koreas with unusually large, beautiful wine glasses. The goblets, specially prepared for this important occasion, were not just regular glasses; they were Riedel Glasses imported from Austria.

Expert wine tasters insist that, in addition to wine storage and serving conditions, glassware makes a real difference in experiencing wine. To prove that, the president of Riedel Japan Co. Ltd., Wolfgang Angyal, visited Seoul last week and held a wine tasting using different types of Riedel crystal glasses at the Grand Inter-Continental Hotel.

Riedel has been producing glassware since 1756. Through 10 generations, the Riedel family has produced such products as television picture tubes, fiberglass and traffic lights. In 1958, Claus Riedel introduced the first gourmet wine glass series. He was the first to explore the idea that the size and shape of a glass affect the wine's aroma and taste. The original design of his Burgundy Gran Cru goblet is on exhibit at the New York City's Museum of Modern Art.

Professor Riedel, a wine connoisseur himself, said the four primary taste components of wine are alcohol, fruit, acidity and tannin (the astringency of wine). And depending on the serving temperature and storage condition, the taste and smell of the wine can change. For example, red wine tastes softer at room temperature. When served too warm, it smells of alcohol; too cold, too much tannin. White wine tastes sweet at warmer temperatures, and fresh when served chilled. Wine drinkers should look for ideal temperatures to insure the wine's best bouquet, according to its "personality."

Even so, wine needs to be served in the right kind of glass. Mr. Angyal said the ideal glass has no decoration and color. The clarity of the glass allows the wine taster to appreciate the appearance of the wine especially when held up to light. For rich red wine, the glass should be egg-shaped and large enough to trap the aroma. As size affects the quality and intensity of aromas, a good red wine glass should be able to hold up to 500 mililiters of liquid. Slender glasses accentuate the rich fruity bouquet and bitter taste and temper the heat of the alcohol. The glass should have a long stem so that it can be held comfortably without fingers touching the bowl. Grabbing the bowl increases the temperature of the wine and leaves unsightly finger prints. The rim of the glass should be finely cut and polished to control the flow into the mouth, and so the thinner, the better.

Crystal glasses are white, brilliant and "sound good" when they are clinked, according to Mr. Angyal. Compared with machine-made products, mouth-blown handmade crystal glasses made with 24 percent lead are thinner, softer and create more aroma when wine is swirled, making them the best choice for gourmet wine tasting. According to Mr. Angyal, handmade crystal glasses have a rougher surface, activating more aroma, and are softer because of their lead content. When toasting, the bowl of crystal glasses should meet in mid-air - "like kissing," Mr. Angyal said - to create the most beautiful sound. Since the bowl is the thickest part, it is the least likely to break.

While using a glass with a small mouth compels the taster to tilt the head back to drink, causing the liquid to flow directly to the bottom of the tongue, glasses with large mouths allow the taster to reach the wine more easily. Holding the glass at a lower angle positions the tongue horizontally, allowing the taster to use the different "taste zones" of the tongue: from the tip to taste the sweetness, both sides to taste the acidity and the bottom to taste bitterness. Wine tasters should cover the opening of the glass with their face to enjoy the aroma.

A glass with a large capacity, called the Bourgogne Gran Cru, is good for wine made from a single grape variety, such as Pinot Noir. A glass with a less round shape, called Bordeaux Gran Cru, is good for wine made from stronger blends of grape varieties, such as Bordeaux and Cabernet-Sauvignon.

When Mr. Angyal demonstrated the red wine tasting, he used one large wine glass and a small regular glass. He asked tasters to pour the savory red wine into the regular small glass. The rich aroma of the same wine in the small glass instantly disappeared, as it became dull and unsavory.

Riedel's finest series of handmade glasses, Sommeliers, comes in limited editions, but a wide selection of the more affordable machine-made Vinum series is available.

Riedel Glasses are on display and for sale at Vinetheque at the Grand Inter-Continental Hotel in Samseong-dong in southern Seoul. A Sommeliers glass goes for 80,000 won ($66) and a Vinum crystal glass for 22,000 won. For more information, check the company's Web site ( or contact Veronica Kang at 02-559-7752.

by In? Cho

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