The shape of wine
Don’t be afraid to bang them together. Of all the advice I’m given by Chad Price, vice president of Schott Zwiesel glassware products for North America, this is the most fun. The German stemware company is a new sponsor for Taste of Vail, replacing the normal banquet-style wine glasses usually used at the event with 6,000 crystal stems.
The only commercial manufacturers of lead-free crystal, Schott Zwiesel replaced the potentially harmful metal with titanium and zirconium oxides. The resulting wineglass is stronger and more durable than what I’m used to, hence Price’s urging to “bang them together.”
I do, and they ring and ring and ring. This becomes my favorite party trick, aggressively clinking the glasses of my friends and giving them the willies, thinking they’re about to be wearing wine instead of drinking it. Being gentle with crystal is a hard habit to bypass for most people.
Price claims the stems are the “clearest, brightest and most attractive” in the world, in addition to being engineered for the rough-and-tumble world of restaurants and dishwashers. They are beautiful, especially when they reflect their surroundings in miniature. But it’s function that backs up fashion.
Schott Zwiesel teamed up with several sommeliers from around the globe, and together they decided upon which heights and shapes best showcased particular wines.
“We don’t say our products make the wine taste better,” says Price, “but if you have the correct shape, it will help deliver to the palate the senses a wine has to offer.”
For instance, one of their wider, rounder shapes is good for aged chardonnay because it’s been bottled up for a while and needs to expel some alcohol and relax. For wines that have been aged, a larger glass allows them to open up.
Depending on the wine, the chimney, or top of the bowl, might be elongated and narrower, in order to better funnel the aroma straight up.
“And when you pour the wine, only pour up to the widest part of the glass,” says Price. “That wide spot is there as your pour line, and you can also swirl your wine aggressively without spilling. The chimney takes what’s at the bottom ” the aroma ” and brings it up to your nose. It’s like a flower: When you stick your face in it, you get a different scent than just waving it near you.”
According to Paul DiMario of La Tour, about 90 percent of a wine’s flavor comes from the aroma. Part of a wine glass’s job is to deliver that aroma in the most attractive way possible.
DiMario and I spent one Friday night in February putting Schott Zwiesel stemware through its paces. DiMario, sommelier and beverage director for the Vail restaurant,
not only knows his wines but gets excited about them. We focused on four shapes:
-13.6-ounce red wine glass, which forms a vee immediately from the stem, then stays straight up.
-21.1-ounce claret goblet, which opens up from the stem, then closes in, making a slender chimney.
-18.3-ounce Burgundy glass, which curves out drastically from the stem, and then curves back in, almost like a ball.
-24.7-ounce claret Burgundy glass, a larger version of the Burgundy glass.
We also threw a “dead glass” in there, with a unilateral shape so the gases, or aromas, had every opportunity to escape.
“When you’re smelling wine, first you smell for the fruit character,” explains DiMario. “After that, you smell for anything that’s not fruit, such as earth or wood. Do you smell oak in there? If so, what kind? Is it soft, or is it searing? Also, you can feel the alcohol when you smell the wine. If the alcohol content is really high, it will creep down your throat and burn you.”
We began with a white Burgundy, which didn’t smell much like anything in the dead glass. Just for kicks, we poured it into the red wine glass. Though there was more of a floral scent in that glass, when we poured it into the smaller Burgundy glass it seemed to wake up, delivering a bit of lemon peel in addition to the floral notes. Next up, a 2003 La Marrche pinot noir, which we tried first in the claret goblet. There was nothing wrong with the aroma, yet it got more interesting and complex in the Burgundy glass.
A 1998 Margaux Bordeaux came out of the bottle smelling of smoke and leather in the way only an Old World vintage can. It almost seemed flat in the claret Burgundy glass, but the claret goblet funneled all of the dark fruits ” currants, cherries, plums ” straight to the nose.
Finally, we tasted a Robert Sinsky Reserve blend, a big, jammy fruit bomb. For this New World vintage we didn’t want a chimney, we wanted it to open up and calm down a little bit. The claret Burgundy glass gave it enough space to do so.
For the festival, Schott Zwiesel is providing a 17.3-ounce stem geared for both white and red wines.