Can a glass really make a difference in the wines we taste? I'll admit to being persnickety about certain beverage glasses (never liked drinking wine out of a glass that has a thick rim) and although I do own a few sets of Riedel glasses that I love, I’ve been a bit cautious to not get so caught up on their "magic."
A few weeks ago, Steve and I were in Portland on our way to wine tasting through the Willamette Valley. We stayed downtown Portland and across the street from our hotel was the "Oregon Wine Bar on Broadway" - - and of course, we had to check it out. It was a friendly bar (staff and customers) that was bright and roomy, with an excellent assortment of Northwest wine including an impressive selection of wines from Walla Walla. We decided, "When in Oregon...,"so we immediately jumped into a flight of Pinot Noir - 2006. Steve was particularly happy with the selection offering as the flight included one of his favorite labels of Pinot Noir, Stoller Vineyards. Also, included were two other Oregon wineries, Hamacher "H" Wines and J Christopher Winery.
At first glance of the flight, I noticed the glasses were a cheaper bar glass like what you would see at a fraternal lodge stag bar, where wines are often an afterthought - short stem, small 4 oz bowl with a very thick rim. The glasses were also very scratched from many visits to the dishwasher. Being familiar with the wines from Stoller, I was very disappointed in the nose and taste. The nose was closed and what aroma I finally caught was pungent and sour. This wine did not have the elegant quality that I remembered and seemed kind of tight - flavorless. "H" was a little better in flavors, while J. Christopher seemed to be a heavier, thicker tasting Pinot, but Steve noticed a bit of vinyl taste. Overall, the experience of this Pinot Noir flight was still enjoyable and a perfect way to kick off our visit to the Willamette.
The next morning, we were on the road - destination Willamette Valley with our first stop at Stoller Vineyards. The glasses given to us at Stoller to taste from, were nothing I had ever tasted from before. I had only seen these interesting shaped glasses in catalogs. They were very different from the typical round Burgundy glass, but with an extra-large crystal bowl that flared towards the rim. Of course, they were Riedels. We commented about the glasses and were told they were especially designed for Oregon Pinot Noir. I remembered reading about such glasses but rather passed it off, with a raised eyebrow. The same 2006 Pinot Noir that we tasted at the Oregon Wine Bar on Broadway was not the same wine - - but it was! It was the exact Junior Vines Estate Pinot Noir - 2006! The nose was full of sweet strawberry jam and cherry pie with accents of almond. The taste was earthy with a spicy finish and never showing a flaw. We told the tasting room attendants about our positive experiences with their wines (Steve more so as he is a club member) and about the not-so positive the night before - - their wine was our least favorite of the three wines in our flight. Of course, it was like the light bulb went on for all of us - it was all about the glass. The staff explained to us about what a difference the Riedel Oregon Pinot Noir glass made: from how crystal alone conveys aroma and flavors better than ordinary glass and the fruit of the Pinot Noir is accentuated with the tapered glass.
Our last wine of the Stoller flight was their SV Estate Pinot Noir - 2006. This wine was the selection of their very best senior vines and the best of the barrels. The nose was just about the most exquisite wine ever and could make a non-lover of Pinot Noir change their mind. Aroma of violets, spice and earth came through and the ripe flavors of cherries. We savored this wine while enjoying the view of the perfectly manicured vineyards. Our tasting room attendant encouraged us to take a walk down the hill and up the slopes to the vineyard. Along with the invite, she poured us another glass of the SV Estate into a heavy plastic wine glass especially made to pack in a picnic basket. We "inspected" the pristine vineyards, assessed the canopy management, the fruit zone, the clay top soil (yah okay, we're grape geeks) and of course, took in the view of the Willamette Valley scenery from the hilltop. And while we were absorbing everything around us, we couldn't help but notice the difference of the same wine we had tasted earlier in the Riedel Pinot Noir wine glass. Flavors and aromas were there, but noticeably very muted in the plastic glass with the thick rim! Viva la difference! I will never raise my eyebrow again.