Sunday, July 22, 2007

Prescription glasses

~My retail wine shop business partner once thought he wanted to get into selling wine glasses. But he wanted to sell glasses with his logo on them, and he wanted to get them from the glass producers, so he made a trip to Eastern Europe, where, he told me, much of the expensive wine glasses are produced.
~Alas, the trip to “glassland” soured him on the idea.
~According to my business partner, he discovered that two top-level wine glass brands of the period used the same glass manufacturers. He also said that while at the plant, he couldn’t tell one brand from another unless he had been told in advance.

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know the veracity of my business associate’s claim.

Also, my ex-business associate’s glass manufacturing information is moot: in politics, you conquer by dividing; in commerce you conquer by consolidating; one of those two top wine glass companies bought the other one a while back and seems to have marginalized that brand’s name.

In the meanwhile, the remaining high-end glass producer may have discovered an interesting twist on the concept of “prescription glasses.”

~It is essential that wine glasses are produced from good crystal and endowed with properly shaped bowls to bring out wine’s qualities and the special emphasis on wine’s aroma.
~Yet, glass makers now tell us that they have designed wine glasses to “direct” the individual wine’s taste nuances to their proper places on our tongue. I believe we can—and should—do that mouth-watering and pleasant gymnastics on our own. Plus, I believe that the claims of glass makers are mostly promotion and marketing.
~I certainly harbor disbelief about directing the taste nuances over my tongue, but my disbelief turns almost to outrage when glassmakers claim that to bring out their special aromas each specific wine varietal requires a specific glass shape, which, I understand, they may have begun to claim.
~As I’ve said, it is essential to drink from a good glass that is well shaped, but it also strikes me as nonsense that each individual wine varietal requires its own glass—I don’t believe it from a technical standpoint and I certainly can easily see the fallacy from a practical standpoint.
~Thousands of wine grape varieties in the world go into producing thousands of wines. Add to that the fact that there are many more thousands of potential blends, and it’s clear that it is technically impossible to come up with a glass for each specific wine.
~If technical impossibility is not enough, how about this: can you seriously consider owning a set of glasses for every wine? What about the cabinet in which one would house those sets of glasses? The thing would give new meaning to the description, “crystal palace!”
~Perhaps, if I were so singularly wine-centric as to buy and consume mainly Bordeaux, Burgundy, and some German wines, my cabinet might be more manageable, and I could console myself into surety concerning my crystal wine glass collection. But I drink wine from everywhere.
~Wait a minute: maybe the high-end glassmakers are in fact targeting people like me.
~The news is out that the wine drinking public seems lately widely open to trying new—to them—varietal wines.
~In the old days, we drank red Spanish wine and didn’t talk a lot about the tempranillo grape that is the country’s wine industry workhorse. But just this morning, someone mentioned in a discussion of Tempranillo wines that a high-end glass is on the market specifically for drinking them.
~Perhaps glass manufacturer executives read the same wine industry trade magazines that I read.
~If so, it’s likely that one of those articles about consumer acceptance of unfamiliar wine varietals gave an idea to a suit in the office of a high-end glass producer somewhere in Europe, and perhaps it was a prescription for perpetual success in wine glasses.

Riedel: Spiegelau:

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
July, 2007. All Rights Reserved.


  1. "to “direct” the individual wine’s taste nuances to their proper places on our tongue."

    Yes, it doesn't get more ridiculous than that!

    On the other hand, too often I have noticed sharply different noses/aromas from different shaped wine glasses of the same wine. Yet I have not sat down and figured this out in detail. But, perhaps one of these days I'll tackle it, as I'm curious.

  2. Jack,

    Yes, different glass shapes are likely to alter the perception of aroma. The question is, do glass shapes pick up the characteristics of a particular grape variety, a particular region, a particular wine style, a particular winemaking technique, etc.

    In my view, the variables are so numerous it is impossible to be specific--variables such as wine style, type of yeast, level of various bacterial infection (and wine does come with them), the grape variety, ripeness, and overall winemaker treatment.

    Certain bowl shapes will accent certain aromas that are common in red wines or white wines by the nature of the difference in production methods of the two, but within reds and whites are all those other variables.

    If the claim is true that glasses are capable of picking out specific wines, then logic tells me that there has to be a glass for easch and every wine, because, as an ex-winemaker, I know how different each and every wine is from year to year, tank to tank. I simply find the claim to be way overboard.

    But then, I could be dead wrong. I hope not; I really have no room in my house for that "Crystal Palace..."

  3. Thomas - I think you're dead on here. So, how long until software is available that can analyze any wine and give you the best shapes of glass that will show the wine's aromas the best?

  4. Very informative post..
    Interesting as well.. I have a plethora of glasses in my cupboard but was only ever concerned with how quickly I could consume the wine that was in them..

  5. Jack,

    Let's hope the software arrives after I've made my gentle exit.

    I don't want a computer settling all my convivial arguments over what's in my and my guests' wine glasses...before you know it, there will be a special plate for every morsel of food!!!