On my way to China I read this piece on TheDrinksBusiness about a bridge being built in China’s Henan province. The central support of the bridge is in the shape of an ancient wine vessel dating to the Shang (1600-1046BC) and Zhou (1046-256BC) dynasties, which were based in the area.
Still unopened, the bridge features a prominent 104-metre-tall, wine vessel, known in China as a jiǎ (斝).
The Jia (Chinese: 斝; pinyin: jiǎ; Wade–Giles: chia3) is a vessel used in old Chinese rituals and was usually made from pottery and bronze with either three or four legs. Although the reasoning behind using the design of the glass as a support to the bridge is not quite clear, it made me think of how far we have come with the science of wine glasses. Today, there is such a variety of glasses available, different shapes and sizes, all said to contribute to the wine tasting experience in one way or the other.
Is this true? Does the type of glass really make a difference or is it a matter of preference – or even pretence? Although a crystal glass with a slender stem indicate sophistication and style, does it make a difference to the way the wine tastes?
It does. I am no glass snob and have had beautiful wines and wonderful experiences enjoyed from humble tumblers in Italy as well as those silly little round glasses popular at dances and weddings when we were young. When it comes to really unlocking the complexities of the wine, however, the glass does make a difference.
Although wine making techniques influences the style of wine, it is the inherent qualities of the grape variety – its tannin, sweetness, acidity, flavours – that should determine the wine-making methods, oak maturation, etc. The influence of stemware adds another dimension to the wine experience as the choice of wine glass can further enhance a wine’s cultivar-specific characteristics.
Leading glass house, Riedel, agrees, of course. More than going for crystal with a stem, they therefore offer variety-specific glasses! Although a novel idea, this might not be so practical for most of us – except if you only ever drink one variety!
What research shows us however, is that the design of the glass should be such that its dimensions are in perfect harmony.
The specific shape of the glass has to do the following:
- Deliver the quality and intensity of the wine’s aroma.
- Highlight the texture or mouth-feel.
- Create a balanced interaction between fruit, minerality, acidity and the bitter components of the wine.
- Offer a pleasant and lingering aftertaste.
But, there are horses for courses and nowadays even the practical wine tumbler has made its way into the Riedel catalogue…