Why the right wine needs just the right glassWhen North Korea’s Kim Jong-il held his wineglass high and then guzzled it down in a single breath at the 2000 summit between North and South Korea in Pyeongyang, a few perceptive South Koreans took notice of Kim’s peculiar taste. He drank premium French wine, served in a mouth-blown, wine-specific Riedel glass, like it was a shot of soju.
Nevertheless, Georg Riedel, the Austrian glassmaker, and Riedel Glas’s South Korean importer, Daeyoo International Co, both appreciated Kim’s promotion of their product. At a recent dinner organized by A.K. Yoo, the president of Daeyoo, in the Seoul Hilton’s 21st-floor Namdaemun Suite, Georg Riedel proposed a toast to thank the North Korean leader.
The Riedel trademark was founded by Mr. Reidel’s family in 1756; he is a 10th-generation chairman. He hopes his children, 30-year-old daughter Laetizia, a lawyer, and 26-year-old son Maximilian Josef, who is currently in charge of North American operations, will become the next to take up the family business.
His family is originally from Bohemia; by 1955, the family had settled down in the west of Austria. For the past 250 years, the Riedel family has kept the business intact, producing hand-made glasses to maximize the taste, color and flavor of every variety of wine in the world.
Claus Riedel, Mr. Riedel’s father, created and introduced a revolutionary concept: a thin-blown glass that bore no adornment ― consisting only of its essence, bowl, stem and base ― but served strictly as an instrument of wine tasting. This series of wineglasses, called Sommeliers, has since become the gold standard; the publisher of The Wine Advocate in 1991 called them “the finest glasses for both technical and hedonistic purposes.”
One of the Sommelier series, Burgundy Grand Cru, designed in 1958, became part of the permanent design collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. The company and its enthusiasts say the glass enhances the flavor of full-bodied red wines.
“Although it is not proven scientifically, wine tasters and connoisseurs around the world have appreciated the difference in taste of the wine when a right glass was matched with the wine,” said Mr. Riedel. During the seven-course dinner, he demonstrated how remarkably the tastes of both white and red wines improved when served in a glass specifically designed for that type of wine.
As a 1995 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve from Napa Valley was poured into a Burgundy Grand Cru glass, Mr. Riedel explained that the glass’s bowl ― which is large enough to hold an entire bottle of wine ―allows the bouquet to develop to full effect. The glass’s distinctive feature, the slightly flared lip, directs a precise flow onto the front palate, he said, maximizing the sweet, fruity taste of the red wine.
“You can taste a perfect balance of fruit, minerality, tannin and acidity in the wine, and smell the mint of eucalyptus and sweetness of black currant, and the color is so dark that it looks like ink in this glass,” Mr. Riedel noted. The same wine poured in an ordinary glass seemed bland at a taster’s first sniff.
Today, Riedel is not limited to wine; the company makes special glasses for whiskey, cognac, port and Canadian ice wine. The company’s “strategic alliance” with Mexican liquor companies has also led to a glass specially for tequila. He hopes perhaps another strategic alliance with a Korean liquor company might leads to a new series. Developing a new glass can require months, often years, of intensive workshops.
So, could Mr. Riedel live without the perfect glass? “If I were to choose between a glass and company, it would definitely be the company that makes the occasion enjoyable. To drink wine is to enjoy your life!”
by Ines Cho