A decent glass can enhance both the smell and taste of even the dullest wine. Fiona Sims explains what to look for when choosing stemware
If there's one thing that bugs a wine lover, it's a bad glass. The worst is the Paris goblet, thick of seam and bulky of rim, it holds a mean six ounces and is still ubiquitous. If you persist in selling plonk, then at least give it a bit of room to breathe - it's amazing what a decent glass can do to a dull wine.
Maximilian Riedel agrees. The pioneering Austrian wine glass manufacturer has spent his life talking about the benefits of a good wine glass. Along with his father, Georg, he has travelled the world to show off Riedel's innovative shapes, which includes wine glasses tailor made to specific grape varieties from specific regions.
And yes, it really does make a difference. Try it yourself with the same wine poured into a Paris goblet and a grape variety-specific Riedel glass. Not only does the wine smell completely different, it tastes different, too - the Riedel glass showing off the best the wine has to offer, the Paris goblet masking any fruit and throwing the acidity and tannin forward, spoiling the experience of even a decent wine.
And Riedel is once again leading the way. As alcohol levels increase, so must the size of the glass, declares Riedel. "Winemaking styles have changed. We are making far better wines these days. Everything has improved - fruit is much more concentrated and alcohol levels are higher and for that you need bigger glasses," he says, confirming that Riedel bowl sizes are indeed getting bigger.
Cue Riedel's Vinum XL range, which launched last year. "Most of the glasses in the original Vinum range were created in the late 1980s and 1990s and winemaking styles have moved on since then. There's even new terminology - in California they are talking about the differences between ‘mountain', ‘hillside' and ‘valley' fruit. The bigger glass does more justice to hillside and mountain fruit - it allows more concentration and it brings out the minerality in a wine," he explains.
It's not just a New World thing either; even Bordeaux is making more fruit-forward wines these days for earlier consumption. The new Vinum XL Bordeaux glass, for example, is 265mm tall and can hold 960cc, while the original Vinum Bordeaux glass was 225mm tall with a capacity of 610cc.
"Bigger wine glasses give the wine more breathing space," says Riedel.
Some Champenois have even started to move away from using traditional flutes in favour of more generous white wine glasses to allow the aroma and richness of their fizz to shine. But if that doesn't appeal, consider filling a flute half full or a third full to allow the Champagne's full aromatic potential.
Other recent sparkling wine stemware innovations include laser-etching dots in the bottom of glassware to make the fizz in a glass of bubbly last longer - M&S launched flutes last year with this technology incorporated - a trick learned from a beer company that scratched marks using a screwdriver into the bottom of theirs to sustain bubbles. Meanwhile Champagne specialist Richard Juhlin at Sweden's Reijmyre Glassworks has launched a glass in the UK that declares to be the perfect shape for Champagne - think elongated glasses, to extend the life of the bubbles.
Launching at Hotelympia this week is the Royale range of glassware from John Artis. Created by Luigi Bormioli, it uses Sparkx technology, which claims to offer better clarity and resistance to shock.
"We are seeing a greater demand for high quality glassware with more awareness of the benefits of enhancing the olfactory satisfaction of different varietals," confirms marketing manager Kathy Birch. Meanwhile Bavarian company Eisch Glaskultur has launched its Sensis Plus range of stemware that claims to make any ordinary wine taste better, keeping its manufacturing methods a secret.
top five tips for choosing stemware
Hotel du Vin Group wine buyer Ronan Sayburn on what to look out for when buying glasses
â- It must be uncut glass
â- Specify a long stem to hold onto
â- One third full should be your serving measure, especially for bigger bowls
â- Ensure it's durable enough for restaurant use
SOMMELIER SOAPBOX: CHARDONNAY
John Hoskins MW, owner and wine buyer, the Old Bridge hotel, the Old Bridge wine shop and the Pheasant at Keyston, Cambridgeshire
I'm sure that you have all been told by your guests that they don't want to drink Chardonnay, but would be delighted to take your recommendation for a crisp, fresh Chablis or even a big, buttery Meursault.
It's just rather sad that the world's greatest white grape (back off Riesling fanatics!) is now so out of fashion. Because fashion it just is.
Of course, New World Chardonnay was, for a while, a bit over-the-top, a bit too heavy, too oaky and sometimes too sweet. But things have moved on. Chardonnays are coming in light, fresh and un-oaked (almost Chablis-esque) styles as well as in a more voluptuous format. And those richer wines are now often finely balanced with lovely acidity and well-judged oak.
Winemakers are not stupid. They have worked out that good Chardonnay comes from cooler areas and needs careful handling. A revolution in site selection and fermentation/maturation techniques has changed Chardonnay as it has so many other whites - why else has southerly Picpoul de Pinet suddenly become the zesty, trendy wine bar white of the moment? Why else is warm climate South Africa now offering more excitement in the white department than the red?
Caution is required, however. There is little point in trying to explain all of this to the majority of guests stuck in that ‘ABC' mode. It's no hardship offering alternatives that still provide interest and a change from ubiquitous Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc: think GrÁ¼ner Veltliner from Austria, Chenin blends from South Africa and a multitude of southern RhÁ¶ne options.
But if the opportunity does arise, try this brilliantly contrasting pair from Jordan Estate in Stellenbosch. The 2010 Un-oaked Chardonnay could be a thirst-quenching Macon Blanc, while the 2009 Chardonnay in traditional style is a mini Meursault at less than half the price. Both around £6 ex-VAT from ABS Wine Agencies, 01780 755810.
Caterer and Hotelkeeper wine clinic
Are wine dinners really worth it?
Yes - they're great PR. And particularly handy for a quiet Sunday or Monday night when you've only got two tables booked, and your bedrooms are lying empty. And if it's a Champagne dinner, even better - people will always pay a bit more for these.
Themes can range from ‘mad about Burgundy' to ‘great wines to go with vegetable dishes'. And your wine suppliers love them because the wines will get valuable exposure - and, of course, you might just buy more wine from them in the future.
Diners like them because the wines are usually discounted at the dinner, but more importantly, they are entertained and will hopefully come back for more.
The dinners are a great marketing tool -it shows that you are serious about your wine offering. Though don't expect to make lots of money out of these - it's really all about the publicity, for both you and your supplier. It's also an opportunity to attract new customers and introduce those you already have to wine.
Consider starting up a wine club with a tasting programme then offer members first dibs on tickets for the dinners. And it's a good way to spread the word about a particular region that your diners may not know much about, such as the Loire, which is much easier to sell with food. The most important thing, though, is to make it fun - for both your customers and for your staff, who will both get to taste wines that they wouldn't normally try.
five wines that will leap off your list
Key on-trade wine buyers share their latest finds and suggest how you should sell them on your list
Robin Naylor, Boutinot
Tel: 0161 908 1300
2010 False Bay Chenin Blanc, Western Cape, South Africa, £4.75
Behind the elegant label lies a wine of tremendous depth and concentration. At this stage many a Chenin Blanc of this price would have moved on a vintage, but False Bay enjoys a long and slow wild-yeast fermentation to create the unctuous mouth feel and texture. It's great with Thai-inspired mussels and will easily fare well against more expensive wines on the list.
James Doidge, Wine Treasury
Tel: 020 7793 9999
2011 Moscato d'Asti, Bricco Quaglia, La Spinetta, £8.50
This Moscato is from 30-35-year-old vines grown at altitude. With green apple, lime and peach fruit, it's vibrant, floral and delicately honeyed yet zingy on the finish with a generous froth of bubbles - and at a mere 5.5% it fits in with the trend for lighter wines. Though a great match for fruit desserts, it's at its best as an aperitif.
Rebecca Palmer, Corney & Barrow
Tel: 020 7265 2400
2009 The Gathering Sauvignon/Semillon, The Lane, Adelaide Hills, Australia, £16.24
From boutique operation the Lane, it shows exactly why the trade and pundits the world over are getting so excited about Australia's wines. This is a proper grown-up, vibrant, passion fruit and zesty lime wine defined by laser-cut minerality. Quite a match for a range of dishes, from oysters to spicy Asian food, it's all too easy to drink on its own.
Bruno Besa, Astrum Wine Cellars
Tel: 020 3328 4620
2007 Carema Classico, Piedmont, Italy, £11.22
The area north of Turin and around Biella and Novara makes some outstanding wines based on local Erbaluce and Nebbiolo grapes. Carema Classico is produced from 100% Nebbiolo and the wines are aged in large oak for at least three years, producing one of the most delicate and complex wines in Northern Italy. Think cherries, rose water and oriental spices - great with game and with soft cheeses.
Stephen Crosland, Tanners
Tel: 01743 234400
2011 Paparuda Pinot Noir, Transylvania, Romania, £4.80
The first really decently priced, genuine wine we've found in Romania, perfect for the retro-revolution we're experiencing these days. Fragrant and fruity, this Pinot Noir has been crafted by Aussie Hartley Smithers and his Spanish partner, Nora Iriate. The emphasis on lively, bright fruit sits well with lighter dishes, but it copes brilliantly with a bit of spice, too.