Monday, July 11, 2016

Glasses for sweet wines

Demonstrating that different wine glasses suit different wines is a straightforward thing to do. Even novices can usually detect a difference, when given the same wine in different glasses. The trick, then, is finding the "right" glass for each wine — the one in which the wine seems to smell and taste best.

So, we have a selection of glasses in our house, and we often try the first glass of any bottle of wine in at least two different glasses, to see which one is most suitable. Most of these glasses are from the Spiegelau Vino Grande series, because that was what was on special at the time we first decided to acquire a selection. However, we also have a few glasses from the Riedel Vinum series.

Recently, we decided to try some new glasses for sweet (dessert) wines. The three that we tried are shown here.

Three Riedel glasses with Raymond Lafon sauternes

From left t right in the first photo they are:
    Riedel Vinum Extreme Icewine
    Riedel Sommeliers Sauternes
    Riedel Vinum Port
The Port and Icewine glasses are machine-made crystal, while the Sauternes glass is hand-blown; and each one of the latter therefore costs about one-third more than a pair of the other glasses.

The first wine used for testing (as shown in the photo) was a half-bottle of Château Raymond-Lafon Sauternes 2003, a moderately good vintage for the sweet wines of Bordeaux. It was probably right in the middle of its best drinking window, with aromas of lemon, apple, honey, pineapple, and dried apricot.

In the comparison, there was little to choose between the Vinum Port and Vinum Extreme Icewine glasses, both of which nicely focussed the nose of the wine. However, the surprise outcome was that the Sommeliers Sauternes glass performed very poorly, with a very muted presentation of the aromas. That being said, I might choose the Extreme Icewine glass for this type of wine, as the larger volume displays the wine's colour well.

Three Riedel glasses with Don P.X. pedro ximénez

The second test wine was a half-bottle of Don PX Gran Reserva 1983, a pedro ximénez wine by Bodegas Toro Albalá, from Montilla-Moriles in the south of Spain. This is a much stronger and more syrupy wine than the sauternes, as shown by its colour; and it is still a youngster despite its 30+ years of age. It usually scores at least a couple of points better on sites like CellarTracker.

This comparison was completely inconclusive. No matter in what order the glasses were examined, the first one smelt strong, the second was muted, and the third one had almost no detectable aroma! So, the glasses had to be examined individually, rather than directly compared.

The Vinum Port glass emphasized the liquorice (and orange zest?) aspects of the aroma, while the Vinum Extreme Icewine glass emphasized the plum and clay pot aromas, and the Sommeliers Sauternes glass emphasized the plum and roasted coffee aromas. All three glasses nicely presented scents of raisins, dried figs, molasses, prunes, burnt caramel, honey, tar and chocolate. Stunning!

Since there is so little to choose between the glasses for this particular wine, I would use the smallest glass, in order to control the volume — this wine is simply too strong-tasting to want to drink much at a time (the after-taste lasts for minutes).

Three Riedel glasses with Maglehem apple wine

The third test was intended as a complete contrast to the previous wine. This was a 500 ml bottle of Swedish apple wine known as Maglehem n:o 4:15. This is a 15% alcohol wine made by Maglehems Musteri, using mainly Cox Pomona, Ingrid Marie, Cox Orange and Ribston apples, and then matured for 18 months in French oak. It is only mildly (ie. apple-juice) sweet.

In all three glasses, the wine had a bitter-sweet sensation of apples, quince, marmalade and basil. In addition, the Vinum Port glass emphasized an aroma of flowers and over-ripe apples, while the Vinum Extreme Icewine glass emphasized orange peel and dusty road (after being fairly muted at first). The Sommeliers Sauternes glass picked up the aroma of over-ripe apples, but less strongly, plus the dusty road, and added some bitter almonds. So, the latter glass probably edged out the other two.

Three Riedel glasses with trockenbeerenauslese wine

The fourth, and final, test wine was a bottle of Framersheimer Kreuzweg Trockenbeerenauslese 1976, from Walter Kürner Weingut in Rheinhessen, in Germany. In strength and sweetness it is somewhere in between the first two wines. It is certainly the most mature of the four, while still being firmly in its best period.

All three glasses produced a profound sensation of raisins, honey and citrus, in both the aroma and the taste, and in that sense they were all good presenters of the wine. However, in this case the Vinum Extreme Icewine glass was the clear favorite, with a stronger and more taste-rich experience compared to the other two glasses. The Sommeliers Sauternes glass placed a bit more emphasis on a grapefruit-skin bitterness; and the Vinum Port glass showed a bit more plum aroma.

So, the bottom line from these four comparisons is that there was no consistent difference between the three glasses, that we could detect. These combined results contradict some other comparisons of these three glasses, such as that in the comments to this particular blog post: The Ultimate Glass Test.

Anyway, given that you should only buy wine glasses that you can afford to replace on a regular basis, the expensive Riedel Sommeliers glass may end up being put away in storage; as may the unnecessarily tall Riedel Vinum Extreme Icewine glass.

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