Georg Riedel, head of the Riedel glass empire, stood at the front of the room and explained how a glass is like an item of clothing that can help accentuate what its contents merits. We had 16 different ‘outfits’ in which to try two different English sparkling wines, with the aim of finding the most suitable glass.
I have been a keen believer in what Riedel do since my first sniff and sip test with their glasses a number of years ago. I was excited to be asked to come and take part in the workshop at Hush Heath’s brilliant winery in Kent to discover the best glass for an English fizz…
For those who don’t know Riedel and what their glasses do, I’ll give a little intro: Whether it be grape variety or region, Riedel create glasses to help accentuate the merits of different wines through the vessel in which it is drunk. The shape of the glass, the angle of the wine’s entry to the mouth or the volume of wine allowed by the glass to enter the mouth. All of these factors are hugely important when it comes to appreciating a wine. What I find most fascinating, other than the difference in aroma that one wine can have from another just because of its glass, is the way the wine enters your mouth and is automatically distributed to a particular area or areas in the mouth. Different areas of the mouth recognise different components in wine, e.g. acidity and tannins around the gums, or secondary aromas at the back of the mouth. Each Riedel glass creates a differently shaped ‘tongue’ of wine which will go to a particular area, e.g. the Riedel Sauvignon blanc glass has a very thin tongue, which shoots the fairly acidic yet aromatic wine straight to the back of the mouth, avoiding the acidity causing the production of too much saliva around the gums, and allowing the aromas to be picked up by the palate at the back of the mouth. How various glasses would affect top quality fizz from a couple of producers here in England was a question I’d been pondering for a while…
Hush Heath Manor house and gardens
We were received by the jolly Richard Balfour-Lynn, owner and figurehead of the fabulous Hush Heath brand. With a number of other wine industry bods, we were guided around his meticulous garden, and down through the vines (which are looking really healthy and whose grapes taste great) to the winery. Waiting for the cohort in the winery was a spectacular array of glasses laid out in front of 25 seats.
Riedel's glasses all lined up and ready for tasting some great wines...
The first wine being used as the guinea pig for the glass experiment was that of the host estate’s eponymous Hush Heath Balfour Brut Rosé, a delicate, fruit driven blush that has been making waves in the English wine world. The 16 glasses we were testing were as follows:
1. Traditional Coupe; 2. Sauvignon; 3. Riesling; 4. Riedel Restaurant Flute; 5. Prosecco; 6. Pinot noir; 7. Sommelier Champagne; 8. Vinum Champagne; 9. 1969 World Wine Fair; 10. Antique Champagne; 11. Tempranillo Crianza; 12. Vinum Champagne; 13. Overture Champagne ; 14. Restaurant Port; 15. Stemless Champagne; 16. ISO tasting glass (not by Riedel)
Starting with a flight of 16 glasses in the first round, each participant had to eliminate nine glasses, followed by a vote on which nine would be eliminated. The majority ruled, leaving seven. After the second round with seven glasses and another fresh bottle of Balfour Brut Rosé each (much to the chagrin of Richard!), four more glasses were eliminated, leaving three. From the three a favourite was chosen. Well, two. Glass number 5 won, but with less overall negative votes, glass 8 tied.
With a break for a delightful buffet lunch of finger food, the opportunity to drink some of the still wines that Owen Elias is making at Hush Heath (a tender Chardonnay and a fresh and fruity Rosé), and a chance to sit in the almost surprising sun (after the summer we’ve had!).
The tasting resumed after lunch, this time, however, the glasses were filled with Chapel Down’s 2006 Pinot Noir / Chardonnay. And the results were markedly different… Glasses #7, #9, and #11 were the finalists for the Chapel Down, with glass #7 coming out on top. The mineral and yeasty aromas of were able to shine in these glasses.
It’s very difficult, when every wine in the world is different to the next. Riedel would, I’m sure, love to create a glass for each and every producer in the world, but it’s just not realistic. When comparing the results of the Hush Heath and Chapel Down tastings, glass #7 actually had very few negative votes overall and could be deemed the glass for enjoying English sparkling wine. It will be interesting to see which glasses conquer at Camel Valley’s tasting in Cornwall…
It is very difficult to not look at the aesthetics of a glass when tasting wine, despite Georg Riedel telling us to only pay attention to the functionality of the glasses. The general feeling from the tasting was that the best glass for English sparklers were those that allowed the aromas and flavours to bounce around the glass a bit, rather than keeping them all in tight. Wider bodied glasses like #s 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 11 let the wines that have (in general) more aromatic and fruit components share their aromas with the taster.
A thoroughly enjoyable day, with excellent company, food and wine. The weather was once again on our side too!
Thanks to Richard Balfour-Lynn for hosting us, Meeghan Murdoch for organising, and of course to Georg Riedel for being a genius glass maker…!