Riedel is a 250 year-old family glassmaker, now in its tenth and eleventh generation, with ties that crossed through Russia after the second World War. Eighth generation Walter was taken prisoner in Czechoslovakia and the Riedel company became a state enterprise. Walter spent ten years in a Siberian camp, but was finally released to Austria in 1955. However, as the war ended, Walter’s son Claus had escaped by leaping from a train at the Brenner Pass in the Alps. He ended up in a village near Swarovski glass works and was taken in by them; the Swarovski family had learned the business from earlier generations of Riedels. Swarovski eventually bankrolled Claus to take over the bankrupt Tiroler Glashutte, today’s Riedel factory. By 1961, Riedel fine wine glasses were introduced and by 1973 they were researching the relationship between the shape of a glass and the wine it contains. Worldwide, Riedel has a virtual monopoly in this market.
We brought a big group of wine tasters to Vinum, over 35, and Dmitri Pinski, DP Trade’s proprietor had to find extra tables. The program was a regular presentation that DP Trade hosts in a classroom under the Vinum shop. Each place setting consisted of a paper placemat with 5 circles, one for each of five glasses. The first circle, Dmitri’s ‘Joker’ glass, was a typical wine glass used at most restaurants. The other circles, numbered 2 to 5, were set with Riedel’s Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Burgundy, and Bordeaux glasses respectively.
Dmitri selected four wines for the test, not the most expensive, but those he described as typical for the style. These were Montes Sauvignon Blanc Limited Selection 2005 (Chile – 22 Euro), Masciarelli Marina Svetic Chardonnay (Italy – 39 Euro), Domaine Leroy Burgundy 1998 (25 Euro), and Chateau Haut-Bages Monpelou 2000 (55 Euro).
The Sauvignon Blanc was poured, about 75ml for each of us in the appropriate Riedel glass. Dmitri gave our unruly group a difficult task – do nothing until instructed. Finally, the first instruction came – give the glass a swirl and sample the aroma of the wine. This wine provided a beautiful, full, fruity aroma, exactly what one would expect from a very good Sauvignon Blanc. Next we tasted, and the expectations from the aroma were fulfilled. Dmitri asked us to pour half of the remaining Sauvignon Blanc to the Joker and raise our Joker glasses for aroma and then taste. There was an audible stir in the group; the wonderful aroma we had experienced in the Riedel was completely missing, and the taste of the wine was flat. This was a revelation for most of us, and I was at the top of the list.
The placemat also had a diagram of the human tongue showing the location of sensory zones for tastes – sweet, bitter, salty and so on. Dmitri described the means that each glass delivers the unique combination of tastes for each wine to the tongue. Each shape also retains or spreads the aromas to the nose as one experiences the wine.
We continued the trial, through the Chardonnay, Burgundy and Bordeaux, with the same general results. In every instance, the results were roughly the same – the glass did make a difference, and by the end of the session most were convinced. Dmitri pointed out the obvious, “as you see, a bad glass can spoil any good wine, and this Joker is what you will find in some of the most expensive restaurants. A customer orders a $300 wine and it is spoiled by the glass.” He also added that, “a bad wine will show worse in a good glass.”
Dmitri’s wine shops, under the names Decanter, Magnum and Vinum, are a regular stop for preparation of the Passport wine tastings. They offer a good selection of wines, and not only those imported by DP Trade. DP Trade is also the importer of Australian PGA Pro Grant Dodd’s wines, which have become a favorite since our December wine tasting: (www.passportmagazine.ru/ article/372/). Dmitri also gave us some insights into the markup practices of restaurants. “The clever vary the markup from 1.5 to 5 depending on price; others just markup 3 to 5 times. As you know, in general, the markups in Moscow are high.”
There are three principal lines of Riedel glasses. The upper level or Sommelier is hand-blown glass at retail prices of around 2,900 rubles in Moscow. The second line is machine made Tirol crystal at about 900 rubles. The restaurant line is crystalline at about 400 rubles. I have not yet seen Riedel’s closest competitor, the German Spiegelau, in Moscow. But I have definitely added Riedel to my gift list – unfortunately the Defender of the Motherland holiday has just past and my birthday and Christmas is far off, so I will have to spring myself for a couple of the Riedel Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay glasses.
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