10 Questions: Grape Varietal Specific Glassware

With Mark Baulderstone, Managing Director of RIEDEL Australia & New Zealand

We’re going right back to basics, talking about what makes RIEDEL the brand it is: Grape Varietal Specific glassware. We asked Mark Baulderstone, the Managing Director of RIEDEL Australia & New Zealand, ten questions about the philosophy behind RIEDEL products and how they are designed. 

Mark Baulderstone standing by a table of RIEDEL products

Mark has been championing the brand’s varietal specific philosophy since 1995, and has hosted their iconic RIEDEL Sensory Workshops to industry and consumers across Australia, New Zealand, and Asia.

  1. How many people have you educated about glassware in your career?

I'd have no idea... maybe ten thousand?!

  1. Then you know what you’re talking about! So do you really need different glasses for different wines?

In a word: yes. We know as an indisputable fact that RIEDEL glasses highlight and showcase the best attributes of grape varietals. Customers always look for similarities in wines that they’ve enjoyed in the past, and the DNA of the grape varietal is the number one link behind that, not brands or regions.

  1. So people buy wine based on variety?  

Exactly. If a wine drinker says to a sommelier “I really love Marlborough Chardonnay,” the sommelier might reply, “have you tried a Chardonnay from the Central Otago?”, not “have you tried Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc?” Because they’re completely different animals. You’ve put an emphasis on the varietal; you haven’t just said, “I like all wines from the Marlborough.”

Wine is consumed for enjoyment, and grape varietal specific glasses are designed to enhance your enjoyment, so why wouldn’t you use them? It just makes sense.

  1. How are varietal specific glasses designed?

We shape by trial and error. RIEDEL is completely unique in this process, and it’s a process that we created and only we use. 

We conduct workshops around the world where we engage with winemakers, sommeliers, and experts, for the purpose of making glasses compete against each other. We look at one wine in lots of differently shaped glasses in a panel format to find a consensus on which glass performs the best for that wine. Nine times out of ten, you find parallels in the way that the experts think the varietals look in the glass.

  1. How many people are usually in the panel, and how many glasses do you compare?

We’ve had panels anywhere from 12-24 people, and each person has anywhere up to 20 glasses, so there’s a lot going on. The number of glasses we use depends on the varietal and what we’re trying to achieve. For example, we recently did a workshop in Marlborough for our new Sauvignon Blanc glass, and used 17 different glasses.

  1. How many times do you do these workshops for the same variety?

We do it multiple times with different panels and different wines. We want to look at different styles of the same varietal so our information is as broad as possible, using different people’s palates, but the same glasses always end up performing the best. Why? Because the variety’s DNA does not change!

Winemakers don’t make Sauvignon Blanc to look like Riesling or Chardonnay, because consumers want Sauvignon Blanc that looks like Sauvignon Blanc. The DNA is the critical part; the “mould” of what the varietal is, is what determines the shape and size of the glass.

  1. You said you made a new Sauvignon Blanc glass, but RIEDEL already has one. Why make another?

Because the producers in Marlborough hounded me for two years, asking us to come back! Georg Riedel and I worked on the first glass there back in 1997, and the producers said the style has changed over the past 20 years.

Coincidentally, while I was conducting tastings in New Zealand, Maximilian Riedel was conducting tastings in Italy, using Sauvignon Blanc from different regions in Italy and Europe. We had no idea the other was doing it, but when we overlayed the results we ended up with very similar information.

Interestingly, and I’m very proud to say this, the Vinum glass that we produced back in 1997 was one of the best performing glasses. It wasn’t the winner on the day but, from recollection, it was second or third.

  1. If the glass still performs well, is it necessary to make a new shape?

While we are really splitting hairs, there’s a place for both. We’ve learnt a lot more about our glasses in the past 20 years, like the differentiation between Old World and New World styles. Now we offer both Old and New World glasses because we believe both are relevant in a modern context.

We love talking about subtleties and nuances, but it all simply comes down to the level of energy, effort and attention that goes into the design of one glass. It’s a process that we labour over, so our customers can trust us.

  1. What’s the easiest way for people to know what glass they should be using, based on the varietals they like?

There’s two ways. First of all, the glass is always named after the varietal, like Veritas Cabernet or Vinum Riesling. But we also have an app you can download to give you this information.

  1. Riedel has an enormous range. What would you recommend to a wine lover starting their glass collection?

Choose your glasses based on the varietals you love. I’d recommend starting with three varietals, maybe one white and two reds, then you can always expand it as you start to learn more about wine. If you want to expand your wine education, choose some varietals you already enjoy and try different winemakers, different regions, and different vintages. It’s a great way to learn what you do and don’t like, and start to look at the nuances and characters that these wines offer.

Which range you pick is based on budget, and who the glasses are for: a whole dinner party, just you and your partner, or just yourself. From a varietal perspective, we have everything from $25 and above, per piece. There are choices that are not going to break the bank, so pick a glass you’re comfortable with and use it every day. Well, every day you’re drinking wine, which if you’re like me …