On Tuesday 24 March, 10th generation glassmaker Georg J. Riedel, alongside Quartz Reef winemaker Rudi Bauer, presented Riedel’s latest varietal glass to the New Zealand media. The glass is the accumulation of a two year project with the Central Otago Winemakers Association, and has been designed to work specifically with Central Otago, and wider New Zealand, Pinot Noirs.
On Tuesday 24 March, 10th generation glassmaker Georg J. Riedel presented the New Zealand wine industry with the glass he made for their country’s Pinot Noir. Through a workshop process, he was looking to gauge whether the new Central Otago Pinot Noir glass was the right vessel for them.
The guests were provided four Pinot Noir glasses and one Cabernet glass. They were given three unmarked cups of Pinot Noir, later revealed to be 2011 Martinborough Terrace (Martinborough), 2012 Dog Point (Marlborough), and 2013 Quartz Reef (Central Otago).
Georg asked the room to think about aromatic profile, mouth feel, length, and overall balance, and decide which glass performed the best. This workshop process is how Riedel produces all of their varietal specific glasses; a process of trial and error whereby the glassmaker is at the mercy of the wine’s DNA, the winemaker, and the winemaking techniques.
The guests divided the first wine evenly between their glasses, and the room was silent but for an occasional clinking of glasses and the sound of air being sucked through the wine. After each wine had been tasted, Georg and Quartz Reef winemaker Rudi Bauer, his co-host, asked the guests to publicly vote for their preferred glass. Debate began about why one shape performed better than another.
John Saker, wine writer for Sunday Magazine and Cuisine Magazine, was happy to add his voice to the discussion. He said experiencing the same wine from four different Pinot Noir glasses was a fascinating exercise. Whilst one glass might bring about too much acidity, another accentuated the herbal notes. “The Central Otago [glass], in terms of balance, really came through. And the length on the palate was streets ahead of the other glasses.”
Editor of Wine Searcher, Rebecca Gibb, said she was amazed at the differences. “I was a true Riedel sceptic, and I am truly surprised at the way the wine glass can alter the mouth feel, the tannic structure, the acidity, as well as the aromatics. I’m a convert.” She said the Central Otago Pinot Noir glass highlighted the structure in the wine from Marlborough much better than what she has become used to from the region.
Bringing flavour to the wine is the art of the winemaker, said Georg, but to find equilibrium and balance in the wine is the art of the glassmaker. "We travelled to Central Otago, met with the winemakers and asked them, what do you want to convey? It is the balance between earth and fruit, and the very specific glass we made for them is designed to show this.”
When asked about the relationship between the science and the design of the glass, Georg said that he always approaches it from a sensory point of view. “The science simply confirms what we all taste and feel. With the aromatics, it’s 100% science; what we smell out of a wine friendly glass is the [aromatic] molecules within the head space.” Molecules differ by their size and therefore weight, and layer themselves within the glass from heaviest to lightest. The shape and size of the bowl dictates whether we receive these layers in the right order. “There are too many different aromatics molecules to know and name, so we tend to categorize them. Let's say, pleasant or unpleasant. This means the difference between the scent of a rose petal and the scent of chicken shit is the size of a molecule.”
For Avram Deitch, the Global Brand Manager for Yealands, the workshop process changed the dialogue of how they talked about wine. “The glasses change the conversation from what are the specific characteristics in Pinot Noir, to which glass forces the wine to show its best expression, which makes it the most extroverted.”
This new dialogue is what Riedel does best; splitting hairs by comparing one picture of the wine to another. The right glass, Georg said, “elevates your emotions. When you drink from a varietal specific glass, it’s not just a glass of wine, without passion. We want to guide consumers to make an investment in a bottle of wine, and get out of it ultimate satisfaction.”
Rudi Bauer believes the glass goes hand-in-hand with the evolution currently occurring with New Zealand Pinot Noir, and that it perfectly conveys the future identity of the variety. “This is something very, very unique, and something I never expected to happen, in this past two years. It brings about a new learning curve [for New Zealand Pinot Noir]. This glass will help us, in the best possible way, to achieve what we want to achieve.”
This is the ultimate compliment for Georg, and the perfect note on which to conclude the workshop. “I see the world of wine and the world of the winemaker, from the approach of a glassmaker. We are the secondary partner, supporting [their] winemaking. We need to have not just any glass, but a glass for Pinot Noir, because it elevates the work and the care which has been taken with this wine, and gives us much more pleasure.”
Georg pointed around the room, his voice rising with passion. “Nobody has wine in the Cabernet glass, because you all tried it and thought it’s ridiculous how bad it smells and tastes. It’s the same wine – don’t forget this! It’s only the glass that’s changing.”
The guests are nodding, convinced. For Georg, this moment, where he can share in his passion for glassware taking over others, is one of his favourite. “This is where I invite you to join the bandwagon for varietal specific glasses.”