Two summers ago, I went to a Riedel Glass event at Chateau O’Brien. He runs these two or three times a year, and it was pretty fun. A corporate representative from Riedel comes in and talks you through comparing a few wines as you move them between glasses and notice different tastes and smells depending on the shape of the glass. At that time, I think we did very powerful wines – tannat and petit verdot if I’m not mistaken. It was convincing, and best of all, we walked away with each participant getting four Riedel glasses – each one varietal-specific.
I stumbled upon this article about wine glasses this morning and it reminded me of the tasting/smelling experience.
Aside from the fascinating science and history of glass and glass blowing, she digs into the impact of the glass on the wine aromas and flavor.
Many wine professionals believe that the size and shape of a glass affects a wine’s flavor, but none can quite explain how. Those who ventured a guess during these interviews inevitably invoked the tongue map, that age-old diagram that carves the tongue into tasting zones: sweet in the front, bitter in the back, salty and sour on the sides. One sommelier even suggested that glasses could influence a wine’s flavor by directing it to a particular part of the palate.
The problem with that logic is that the tongue map is complete bunk.
Science has proven that all taste buds taste everything, and so it’s not about where the wine hits your tongue.
Dr. Bartoshuk allows that the shape of a glass could potentially influence taste by stimulating just a small area of the tongue, but certainly not by aiming for the “sweet center” of the tongue map, as some in the business have implied. Furthermore, as flavor is the combination of taste plus smell, a glass’s effect on aromatics must also be considered. “Sweet, salty, sour, bitter have relatively little to do with wine,” contends Dr. Bartoshuk. “Most wine tasting is the perception of volatiles. It’s olfaction.”
Scientist and wine writer Dr. Jamie Goode agrees. “The tongue is pretty important for flavor perception for a number of reasons, not the least touch. But we give it too much credit. We think the tongue is detecting a wine’s qualities, but that’s because we localize the sensation of flavor to our mouths. But really, it’s the smell, especially the retronasal smell, that matters.”
So of course, given the impact of smell on the overall taste experience, we see that the shape of the glass will have some influence. How major that influence is probably depends on how good you are at picking up specific scents in the wine itself.
These are the glass we got at the “Does the shape of the glass change the taste of the wine?” seminar. I really actually like these. They are super-delicate, and I am terrified of breaking them. But the quality is good, and there actually is a shift in the smell and taste when you match varietal to glass, to provide different oxygen contact, etc. I’d recommend them if you want to dive in and try this yourself. The three varieties are the most popular reds – cab/merlot, pinot noir and syrah. Try the same wine in each and see what happens. You may just surprise yourself.
Or just get a really big glass that holds an entire bottle……
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