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Glass distinctions

It’s generally agreed, based on years of experience, that wine is best enjoyed when drunk out of a glass. Glass is inert and unlike metal goblets, teacups or plastic cups, is relatively thin. According to Jancis Robinson, the doyenne of the British wine trade, this allows the greatest appreciation of the wine’s appearance, the aroma and taste.

There are many who argue that the choice of glassware is the single most important factor affecting their enjoyment of the wine — more important than even the serving temperature of the wine or the food accompanying it. It’s a story you’re most likely to encounter in Delhi.

Wine ‘nuts’ in general prefer plain, unengraved glassware that’s preferably as thin as possible. They don’t usually go in for the overly large, ostentatious glasses rather, preferring something that allows them to ‘communicate’ with the wine as closely as possible.

To others, the choice of glassware is considered a pointless exercise. They say that the real enjoyment of wine is felt when the wine is actually in the mouth. It’s a frequently-debated issue.

‘Glassware’ or ‘stemware’, the fact remains that the ideal wine glass has a stem, so that the wine drinker can hold the glass of wine without necessarily affecting the temperature of the wine in the glass via the contact of their warm hand against the surface of the glass.

It’s a common sight to behold wine tasters swirling the glass of wine before sniffing it and then tasting. As amusing as this might seem, these moves are important as they help to release the aromas in the wine by exposing the liquid to as much air as possible and letting out the volatile aromas in the wine. The stem of the glass allows you to swirl the glass much more vigorously, thus releasing the aromas more effectively.

The ‘ideal’ wine tasting glass is one that narrows towards the rim to minimise spillage and to allow some of those volatile aromas to gather between the surface of the liquid and the top of the glass. Of course, any wine glass that meets this criterion will suffice as adequate, but in modern wine-tasting circles, it is recognised that the ISO standard tasting glass (capacity 21.5cl, height 155mm, rim diameter 46mm) ticks all the boxes and is perfect.

Over time, different glassware has been developed for different types of wines. Perhaps the most recognisable of these is the champagne flûte. The shape of this glass allows the least amount of fizz to escape.

That is, after all the essence of champagne! Because different parts of the tongue react to different basic tastes, the best glassmakers have developed different glassware for different wines where they feel the glass can direct the liquid to parts of the tongue that best react to the unique taste characteristics of the wine.

The sense of taste is quite limited. The taste buds can only differentiate four elements of taste: sweet, acid, bitter and salty. These taste buds areas are positioned in specific areas of the tongue. Because different wine glasses are designed with distinctive shapes to allow the wine to be guided to the specific tasting areas on the tongue, each wine may be enjoyed to the fullest.

This principle is best demonstrated if we consider red Burgundy or Pinot Noir. Pinot really shows a wide range of complex aromas, from dark red berries to a wonderful earthy/meatiness and even sometimes an aroma reminiscent of a forest floor and truffles.

Because of this complexity, the best glass from which to enjoy Burgundy is one which has a wide body and a narrow rim — imagine a glass the shape of a very large onion with its top cut off. This shape allows the mélange of aromas and flavours to gather in the glass as if in a melting pot before being directed to the right area of the tongue.

If you were to pour the same wine into a smaller glass, the experience would not be as complete. The wine would smell more contained and not as aromatic.

The most important thing to remember with good wine glassware is that is must be kept absolutely clean from the outside and odour-free on the inside. Even a hint of dust, soapy residue or a faint smell from the storage cupboard can have an adverse effect on the way the wine smells and tastes in the glass.

It’s a good habit to rinse the glasses in plain, warm water before using them. After using the glassware, rinse the glasses in hot water, and if you use detergent, ensure that it is mild and rinse the glass extra carefully to remove any soapy residue. Allow them to dry briefly by placing them upside down on a rack. A soft linen cloth is best for wiping and polishing the glassware. Store the glassware upright in a clean, dry place.

Of the plethora of stemware brands available, it sometimes becomes difficult to settle on which one best serves your needs. Of course, at the very top end, there are brands like Riedel and Schott Zwiesel which are made with precision and the highest care. However, I encountered another brand that’s becoming more and more widely available in India. Luigi Bomioli is an Italian glassware brand that has been in the business for a long time.

Its premium range — the Accademia range — is more affordable than Riedel or Schott and the quality is more than comparable. What differentiates them, according to their distributor in India, the ever helpful Rajesh Agarwal, is that they are blown from lead-free crystal, giving them brilliance, transparency, sonority and a higher specific weight.

Agarwal, without flinching, virtually battered two of these glasses against each other repeatedly. Amazingly, the glasses did not shatter. He explained that the glassmakers at Bormioli have developed a technology known as SON.hyx crystalglass, which makes the glassware exceptionally durable and able to withstand around 4,000 industrial machine washes. And that should be enough for most of us.

Pix by Rupinder Sharma
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