Paradigm Shift — Pair the Wine You Prefer in the Shape of Glass You Prefer. And What Shape is Yours?
In November 1992, Laura and I were back from our honeymoon, and we just sat down for a nice evening at our Douglas Hills apartment in Middletown, Kentucky. We received lots of different wine glasses for our wedding – big and small. We opened a Chardonnay, probably a Meridian as that was one of our favorites back then. We grabbed some very basic glasses with not much curves to them at all. At that time, we were not aware with shapes of glasses affecting the flavor of wine, or at least if they had, it wasn’t widely published. We’ll, I really liked Meridian and in that wine glass that chardonnay had no “pop” to it. So I got up, grabbed a much more curvy glass and came back to the couch with an empty glass in hand. Laura looked inquisitively and didn’t say a word. I took the wine from the straight glass and poured it into my curvy glass, tasted, and exclaimed, “Much better!” Then I learned about marriage. Laura looked at me again in total bewilderment. The first bewilderment was, “Really, the wine tastes different and better in the curvy glass?” “Second, where’s my curvy wine glass?!?!” Uh-oh. We had no clue, but we knew we discovered something, something real, that wasn’t in our imagination. Wine does taste different out of different glasses.
Today’s wine industry has become loaded with rules about glasses and everything else. You are expected to enjoy Chardonnay out of one glass, Cabernet out of another, Riesling out of a third, and so on. If you are a “real expert”, you have a specific glass for chardonnay grown in Burgundy, France and one for a Napa, California chardonnay. When I talk to consumers who know about these “rules” they are seemingly in complete lock-step with them. When I ask them why and if they have experimented with the rules, and used a chardonnay glass for cabernet sauvignon or drank a cab out of a Riesling glass, stunned bewilderment expresses itself both in facial expressions and reactionary words. However, some folks have that inquisitive look of “hmmm…I never thought of that.”
A good friend of mine posted this on Facebook. I thought I’d share:
Thanks, Tim Hanni, Master of Wine, for the picture! Think about it, is there the right car, the best color a care should be, the right house, the right job, the best type of spaghetti sauce, the best chili, the best fried chicken, even the best steak and how a steak should be best prepared? I like the steak analogy because when you go to a restaurant, they’ll ask you how you like your steak prepared, from rare to well done. There may be some light debate at the table, especially between the rare’s and the well’s, but nothing much comes of it. No one is really wrong. But what if one of the patrons wants to order a sweet Moscato to go with that steak? Hmmm….eyebrows are raised. And perhaps the wait staff may suggest that the steak will taste better with a dry red. But they won’t argue about cooking the steak rare to medium to well done, will they? But wine a “wrong” wine pairing? Moscato and steak?!??! Holy cow! You can’t do that!!!
On the cover of Tim’s book, “Why You Like the Wines You Like” he states that he’ll prove to you that you should “pair the wine to the diner, not the dinner.” Anyway, that got me thinking…thinking of glasses, and thinking back to that Meridian chardonnay back in 1992.
The main point of this blog is to write about wine glasses, but before I can get to glasses I need to lightly set up the other points within the title to make the point that instead of trying to enjoy a style of wine out of a particular shaped glass that you have been told you should use, maybe it may make sense to find a preferential glass and use that glass for most of the wines you enjoy.
Enjoy the wine you like: I could write forever on this subject, but instead, if you want to know more about this subject in greater detail, come to a Turtle Run Winery Wine Appreciation Class and / or read Tim Hanni’s book “Why You Like the Wines You Like”. Check out Tim’s site at www.timhanni.com, or if you would like, we sell the book at Turtle Run Winery for a few bucks less than Amazon sells it. For a quick overview, humans range in taste bud count from as few as 500 to more than 12,000. Yikes! So a simple question is this – does someone with 500 taste buds interpret taste differently than someone with 12,000? You betcha! Someone with 12,000 taste buds is super sensitive to taste. There are 5 primary tastes – bitter, sweet, salt, acid, and umami (savory). For someone at 12,000 taste buds, they are simply more stimulated by taste than someone with 500. Typically when it comes to bitters, suppression is the name of the game and sweetness and salt are the main weapons of choice to minimize the impact of bitter flavors. You could also say, bitter is the rage of the 12,000 folks, and sweetness and salt are their saviors. Stepping outside of wine, black coffee can be bitter, hence a lot of the higher taste bud types will add sweeteners and crème to knock down the bitters a notch. With beer, the high taste bud types receive lots of flavor enjoyment from the light beers. Just don’t try to get them to enjoy the porters or stouts – normally they are too intense for these folks. Conversely a lower taste bud count person may call that light beer “piss water with no flavor” and they’ll ask light beer drinkers to quit drinking the wimpy light stuff and “step up to a real beer” like a porter, IPA or stout. Coffee? Black!! I’ve just simplified Tim’s 200 page book down to a single paragraph, thus doing the great work no justice. But I simply wanted to demonstrate that people with varying degrees of taste buds will either try to heighten or suppress certain flavors through choosing what they eat and drink and how they modify it.
Temperature: A lot of how we consume foods and beverages and their accompanying temperatures are cultural. In the Unites States, soft drinks are consumed cold, whereas in Europe, they are consumed at room temperature. Ask someone from the US to drink a warm soft drink, and you may get the look of utter confusion. Soup – Warm in the US, cold in Europe. There are more examples, but let’s take a closer look at wine and some generalizations that we can reach.
Here are some basics on temperature of wine and temperature’s effect on flavor recognition. Taste is a small aspect on flavor recognition. Aroma determines a lot more on flavor recognition than does taste. Aromas, through the vaporization of volatile chemicals affect the olfactory (smell) sense to create most of what we determine as flavor. So the warmer something is, the quicker and more intense the flavors will be. So is warmer foods and beverages better for everything consumed? Let’s take a look at cola, for instance. Most people have probably had an icy cold cola and most have probably had a warm one as well. The sugars and the flavors are more pronounced with the warmer cola, due to the fact that warmer liquids take less time to vaporize into flavors, but most people opt for an icy cold one. This is partly based upon tradition, but it’s also based upon preference. Because of the use of high fructose (glucose) corn syrup and sucrose in sodas, glucose and sucrose tend for most folks to be the sweetener that leaves a sugary aftertaste, almost a hair on the tongue sweetness, the warmer the beverage is the faster the flavors can be vaporized and thus the more, for me, annoying sugary aftertaste is left. When icing down a soda, you can significantly reduce the sugary aftertaste because the beverage doesn’t have time to fully vaporize in your mouth. Yeah, it’s sweet, but the perception of sweetness is far less than what it would be if the beverage was warm when consumed. Try it sometime – compare the taste of a warm cola to a cold one and see if you can taste the difference.
Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so any increase in the temperature of wine will make the wine taste more alcoholic. Additionally, any flavor compound that is more associated with or bound to alcohol will be more pronounced the warmer the wine is. Take a wine and try a glass warm and compare it to a glass that’s refrigerated and the warm glass will taste more alcoholic than the colder glass. Why is that? Alcohol boils at a lower boiling point than water so the warmer a wine is tasted the more volatile the alcohol is in the solution. Additionally, since oak flavors from barrels bind with alcohol, oaky aromas and flavors will be more prevalent in warmer temperature wines too. And the same with fruity esters – more prevalently noticed at warmer temperature wine than in cooler temperature wine. Conversely, flavors directly associated with the fruit will be more prevalent at cooler temperatures. Wines will taste more acidic at lower temperatures and tannins / phenolic compounds will be more prevalent at colder temperatures as the alcohol chemicals become more suppressed at lower temperatures. According to this new way of a paradigm shift on the rules, keep both your reds and whites warm if you prefer the fruity, oaky, and alcohol flavors in the wine. If you prefer less of those and more impact from the acids and tannins, then cool the wine down.
In the glass you prefer: The wine industry can thank Riedel Stemware of Austria for discovering that the shape of the wine glass greatly affected the flavors and aromas of wine. First discovered by Riedel to my knowledge in 1961, but in reality the concept didn’t take off right away. Even through the 70’s this concept really wasn’t in vogue, to my knowledge. I know in college in the 1980’s, the concept of using specific glasses for specific wines wasn’t even broached. So when Laura and I stumbled upon this concept in 1992, we did it without any preconceived notion that anyone else had ever noticed this.
A few years later, Laura and I were “all in” on this concept. Riedel had done a phenomenal job of creating very intricate glasses designed for specific wines, and it seemed like no matter what wines we poured into the glasses, the wines were enhanced. Their work on glass geometry is simply second to none. I have the utmost respect for what they have done and contributed to the wine industry. Other companies have since come out and copied their glasses or at least close to it, so there are plenty of glasses that exist in the market today designed for specific wines. For the total wine geek, this is cool, but for the average wine consumer, this can be confusing. Overall though, we see a decent number of people understand that a bigger glass is designed for a red wine and one that’s a little smaller is designed for a white wine, so the marketing of this concept of specific glasses for specific wines has taken hold. Take any trip to a fine restaurant and you will see that if some of your group orders glasses of red wine and others order glasses of white wine, the glasses you will be served will be different shapes. Overall, I think this has been a great enhancement in consumer’s wine experiences as aromas and flavors have been enhanced. Today’s glasses are certainly far and away better than the glasses that were generally available in stores back in 1992.
However, Laura and I started experimenting ourselves, pouring white wine into red wine glasses, red wines into white wine glasses, pinot noir in chardonnay glasses, chardonnay into cabernet glasses and so forth. What we discovered was new experiences, none seemingly either tasted right or wrong.
In working with Tim Hanni, I discovered personal traits and likes and dislikes tied directly to taste bud count. For instance, Tim discovered that people with close to 12,000 taste buds received a burning sensation in wines when the wine contained over 12.5% alcohol. We also discovered that tannin concentration really mattered for these high sensitivity folks too. So for people with high sensitivity taste buds, or people with a high concentration of taste buds on their tongue, items that are disliked have a stronger bearing on whether they will consume the product over items that they like. Translation: A very sweet Port wine with nice tannin structure, an alcohol concentration of 20% or so, but very sweet, may not be a wine of choice for the high taste bud count person, unless those tannins and alcohol can be suppressed – through the shape of the glass.
The shape of a cabernet sauvignon glass is designed to enhance tannins and alcohol perception. A glass designed for Riesling is created to suppress the perception of tannins and alcohol concentration. A couple weeks ago, with the help of a very good customer, John, we opened a bottle of syrah, placed 4 glasses in front of us: A Riesling glass, Cab glass, pinot noir glass, and a chardonnay glass. The pinot glass brought out the most tannins and alcohol, followed by the cab glass, followed by the chardonnay glass. By the time we tasted out of the Riesling glass, neither one of us could really perceive the alcohol or tannins. In the Riesling glass we simply tasted an over-abundance of fruit. Conversely, the with the pinot and cab glasses, yeah, we got the fruit, but the fruit flavors were secondary to the tannins and alcohol. Overall, lower taste bud count people tend to like the flair and intensity that comes from tannins and alcohol. But the higher taste bud count people do not. So could John and I have stumbled upon an entirely new concept? Instead of selecting a glass for the type of wine, perhaps maybe a glass should be selected for the type of person. So someone with a high number of taste buds, who is looking for fruit, who is not looking for alcohol or tannins, would be best served wine, any wine, in glasses that highlight fruit and negate tannins and alcohol – a tall and slender Riesling glass. Conversely, a consumer who wants bigger, bold expressive flavors should then look for glasses that will make wines more big, bold and expressive – a big, wide cabernet glass. Funny enough, over time, without us even discussing this topic, Laura has gravitated to one specific glass at the house for all the wines she drinks and I pretty well stick to two glasses. And we will both enjoy any and all wine out of those glasses. I tend to want a little more “umph” in my wines, so I tend to drink with a little larger glass than Laura. My choice for all wines is a chardonnay glass. Laura seeks the fruit, and thus she normally uses our regular tasting room glass for all of her wines. We fully recognize that wines taste different out of different shaped glasses. That’s an absolute. What we have gravitated to is using glasses that suits our individual taste profiles, and definitely NOT a cab glass for deep red or a smaller glass for a white wine. If the wine is barrel aged, I want to taste the oak, therefore I want to taste wines out of glasses that enhances the oaky aromas and flavors, not one that suppresses them. Sometimes oak can be a little over the top for Laura, so she tends to like more even keel glasses. My recommendation to you is this. Yes, try cabernet out of cabernet glasses; try chardonnay out of chardonnay glasses. My guess is over time, you will start gravitating to a specific shape glass no matter what the wine as that glass, and you may start using that cabernet glass as your every day wine glass or perhaps the chardonnay glass as your every day wine glass, or perhaps another shaped glass.
So how does the science work? How can the shape of a glass affect the flavor of wine? It’s both simple and complicated to answer. Before looking at the shape of the glass, let’s look at how humans interpret flavor. Most of what you perceive as flavor is aromatics not taste. Simply put, we humans smell nearly everything before we consume them, and we go through this basic process – we smell for safety first, so is the food or beverage safe to consume, yes or no? If yes, have we had a past experience either positive or negative? If negative (like you got sick off of peach schapps 15 years ago, so anything peach elicits a negative memory), you won’t consume it. If positive or neutral, it’s time to eat or drink. Once the food or beverage enters the mouth, vaporization of aromatics occurs, triggering olfactory nerves in the sinus system to identify the aromatics you are experiencing. The more vaporization, the higher the perception. The less vaporization, the lower the perception or experience of flavor that you will have. If you don’t believe me, take simple cinnamon. Using your left hand, pinch your nose. With your right hand, lick a finger, coat it with then place the cinnamon on your tongue and try to taste it. Nothing. Nada! Then let go of your nose. Cinnamon!!!! Yeah, that’s right, you’ve never ever tasted cinnamon. You’ve sensed the flavor of cinnamon through smell, but no, you have never tasted cinnamon. Let me repeat it another way, you’ve smelled cinnamon, but you have never tasted it. Half of you who have read this far are now finished reading. I’ve made you mad. The other half has left their computer and are getting cinnamon.
The shape of the glass affects volumetric pressure and vapor pressure. The more a glass can allow volatile chemicals to escape as aromas, the more you will be able to perceive them. The warmer the temperature the wine is, the higher this perception will be. Again for someone with high taste bud count, less volatility probably creates a better experience. With fewer taste buds, more volatility probably creates a better experience.
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