Many of the participants at Ken Mason’s wine seminar at the Hyannis Yacht Club arrived as skeptics. It wasn’t that they doubted the quality of the bottles they were about to sample—a flight from the highly rated Sonoma producer Ferrari-Carano. It was that they were going to sip the wines from expensive glasses made by Riedel, a famous Austrian crystal glassware company that pioneered the idea of making individual stemware for specific varietals. By contrast, some of the folks who attend Mason’s wine seminars, which he holds at various Cape restaurants, insisted that they could drink wine out of a grape jelly jar and the taste wouldn’t be any different. Mason thought otherwise.
Mason, who lives in Harwich, is a manager at Classic Wine Imports, a wine importer based in Norwood, Massachusetts, that also represents Riedel. Mason holds glass tastings on the Cape twice a year to demonstrate how Riedel glasses open up the nuances of the grape compared to all-purpose glasses. “Not only do the shapes of the bowl of Riedels enhance the aromas, the lip on the glass also directs wine to certain parts of your palate,” says Mason. For instance, he says, “The glass for chardonnay has a larger bowl and the glass’s lip directs the wine to the front of your palate. The riesling glass is tulip-shaped and the rim is bent out because riesling tends to be acidic. The glass directs the wine to parts of your palate that smooth the acidity.” For more tannic wines, like Bordeaux or Cabernet, glasses with narrow bowls are better vessels.
The prices of the Riedels can be steep: their best hand blown stems in the Sommeliers series can sell for $60 to more than $100 each. However, crystal, machine-made Riedels (the Vinum and Overture series) sell for about $15 a stem and offer different the same benefits as their pricier counterparts, like a large-bowled glass for Pinot Noir with a tapered rim to trap the wine’s more delicate aroma’s and flavors. “For the wine connoisseur, the Riedel glasses takes wine appreciation to the next level,” says John Kenney, the wine buyer for Harwich East Liquors in East Harwich. “You can step up your wine appreciation and identify more characteristics in a wine, but can you justify the cost?”
If the price of Riedel glasses is a bit out of reach, there are other reasonably priced glassware options on the shelves, like those from Schott Zwiesel. There isn’t the range of varietal specific glasses in this brand, but there are a few choices and the glasses have thin lips (best for tasting wine) and good-sized bowls for red wines and ones with large and narrower bowls for whites—and cost about $10 each. Schott Zwiesel wineglasses have an added benefit: they’re made from titanium and zirconium, so they’re resistant to chipping and breaking, especially in the dishwasher. Their larger size makes them good for swirling wine and getting a waft of the aroma.
At the Hyannis Yacht Club seminar, tasters found that the Riedel glasses allowed them to really appreciate the aromas and flavors in the wine. By the end, Mason says, the skeptics were convinced that the glasses made a difference. It turns out that it takes more than a jelly jar to get the most out of your wine.