Wine-tasting is much more a subjective Art than a definitive Science, but I have a natural inclination to be methodical about these things so when Chateau Baccarat offered me the short-term loan of a pair of their new “Oenology Range” glasses, I saw an opportunity to test out a theory on how much influence the wine glass itself can have on the tasting experience.
My tasting glass collection is fairly limited – a couple of Riedel Shirazes, a set of Bormioli Roccos and some basic flutes for fizz. And much as I like the Riedel glasses, I have always been a little sceptical of their claim that you need completely separate glasses for every grape variety or style of port – in any case, I kept breaking the Sauvignon Blanc glasses when washing them up.
For a proper scientific experiment, I decided that I would need four different glasses and a wine that 1) I already knew 2) was of sufficiently high quality for any subtle distinctions to be apparent and 3) shows a decent amount of aromas on the nose.
For the glasses, I used my usual Riedel Shiraz, Bormioli Rocco and added an ISO tasting glass. The wine was a bottle of the excellent Rousseau de Sipian 2005 from Cambridge Wine Merchants (reviewed earlier here).
I first tried the wine in mid-2010 and was so impressed with it that I bought a couple of cases to lay down – at the time it needed quite a bit of aeration to open up and for the chewy tannins to soften.
Bearing this in mind, I opened up the bottle in the morning to let the sulphites start evaporating but did not decant until around 10 minutes before the tasting.
Swirling the wine in the decanter, there are concentrated aromas of blackcurrant, hints of liquorice and an earthy tarriness.
I filled each glass up to about the widest part, then started by simply sniffing, noting down observations. I followed this with a swirl and a sniff of each and again made notes. I sniffed the wines in the following order: ISO, Riedel, Baccarat, Bormioli Rocco then tried different orders.
Finally, I roped in Mrs CWB to have a go and give me her impressions.
Amidst all this, I also took a few sips as well.
And after an hour of sniffing, swirling, sipping, scribbling notes, considering and trying to discern subtle differences, I finally came to the conclusion that there is no significant, consistently noticeable difference between any of these glasses in terms of the intensity of the aromas on the nose or the perception of the wine on the palate.
They are all an appropriate shape for wine assessment – bulbously tulip-shaped to a greater or lesser extent with a wider base and narrower aperture to concentrate and funnel the aromas – and the differences between them (the ISO is the smallest, the BR the widest) are less influential than their similarities.
The Baccarat glass has a number of theoretical, drawing-board advantages over the other glasses that should make it the most effective tasting glass – it is flat-bottomed and wide, almost like a decanter, with a very narrow aperture – but in practice, in this experiment at least, that did not seem to translate into superior performance.
At this point, dinner was ready and we decided to move on to an assessment of the glasses as household objects for drinking from.
The ISO glass – ideal for use at trade tastings where small quantities are involved and notes need to be taken – was the least convenient for drinking wine with dinner. It is easy to swirl and light for quick sniffing, but the aperture is too small to get a nose-full of aromas when drinking.
The Bormioli Rocco – my usual glass of choice for assessing and drinking at home – in this company, felt like the least elegant; squat, fat and with thicker glass. Its width makes it quite heavy and cumbersome to swirl, certainly with any elegance.
The Riedel is shaped like a larger, more refined version of the ISO – less bulbous, it is tall, simple and elegant and its proportions all feel right. It is the easiest to swirl as it is the least wide as well as the tallest.
The Baccarat is the most visually arresting of all the glasses and looks beautiful; it has the thinnest glass at the aperture, giving it a more sophisticated feel. It is not as easy a swirler as the Riedel given its flat-bottomed width and weight.
Around this point, it occurred to me that the Baccarat glasses are not really in competition with my other tasting glasses – yes they are designed for tasting and appreciating wine, but they are really very elegant dinner glasses and should be compared against other elegant dinner glasses.
It put this theory to the test a few days later when I reviewed a Louis Jadot Marsannay 2008 (see here for the full review). An oaked white Burgundy, it is not the most aromatic of wines and even though I decanted for about half an hour before the meal, it needs significant further aeration before the oakiness starts to feel harmonious and the fruit aromas become more prominent.
Compared side-by-side with a with a Royal Doulton crystal glass – the kind of elegant glass you might use at a dinner party (see image above) but which is not designed for wine-tasting – the difference is quite remarkable; on the nose the aromas from the Royal Doulton are significantly and consistently less intense than from the Baccarat.
Again, neither glass is an easy swirler – the Royal Doulton is not at all bulbous – but it occurs to me that these glasses are designed for drinking in the kind of company where it is not polite to swirl and sniff.
As to post-dinner practicality, whilst I suspect that most people who buy a set of Baccarat glasses will probably have “people” to do their washing up, it is surprisingly easy to wash up, having a wide enough aperture and being not too deep.
The Bormioli Rocco is big, fat and wide and therefore easy to wash up, the ISO is shallow and therefore easy, whilst the Riedel is the hardest – being narrow and deep – and also made from thinner glass is therefore the most likely to get broken by clumsy hands.
Finally, the wine itself: on the nose the Rousseau de Sipian shows (from all glasses) blackcurranty fruit, earthy tarriness and a touch of mintiness.
As I have noted in a post on the wrong type of air, even with over six years’ bottle age, it still develops according to another set of rules after opening, with much greater aromas noticeable after being opened for an hour or so.
On the palate, it shows elderberry fruit, black cherries and some mintiness with prominent, linear acidity which cuts through a roast beef dinner perfectly; it feels mouthfilling with the chewy tannins I remember from the last time considerably softened.
It now feels much more integrated and is starting to show the first signs of some aged characteristics – the intensity is fading and is replaced by a harmonious mellowness – rather like the early wrinkles and salt-and-pepper hair of a dashingly handsome Hollywood star entering middle age.
The Chateau Baccarat glasses are £64 for a single glass, £125 for a pair or £360 for six; the range also includes a tumbler and decanter, all pictured above. They were provided to me on short-term loan.
Baccarat – http://www.baccarat.com/
Cambridge Wine Merchants – http://www.cambridgewine.com/
Copyright Tom Lewis 2012
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