Does (Glass) Size Matter – White Wine?
Dr Peter Rating – Experience: 5/5
Dr Peter Rating – Wine: 4.5/5
A few weeks ago, during another ‘Taste Live with Dr Peter’ 6pm daily tasting, I experimented with glasses of different sizes with a red wine, a 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch Reserve. The tasting experience fascinated with a mix of outcomes, some predictable and others less so. It was always my intention to repeat the tasting with a white wine. The recently released 2019 Oldenburg Chenin Blanc – of similar price and quality – offered the ideal opportunity. The variety is one of the more aromatic common cultivars and perfect to expose any differences between the glasses. The grapes are hand-harvested, de-stemmed and then barrel-fermented using natural yeast in 20% new/80% old French oak, with 10 months of maturation with weekly barrel-turning to stir the lees.
Read the previous article for more background about the wine glasses we own and use. The aim of the tasting was the same. Does glass size and shape really make a difference to the drinking experience, as the glossy marketing material from the single-varietal glass companies will have us believe? The only was to discover, of course, was to put it to the test. Thus, I picked out 3 quite different glasses to compare. There was the utility, durable ISO 21.5cl glass that is used in most tasting rooms and wine courses, retailing at R25 each but far cheaper when bought in bulk. Second, was my trusty Riedel Vinum glass. It is recommended for Cabernet/Merlot, but it is very much a universal size and shape. I am familiar with it as it is the glass, I use for my WSET Level 4 Diploma tasting and a big step up from the ISO glass in quality and price (R400). The final glass was the featherlight White Wine glass from high-end Zalto with an exalted price of R670 to match.
Riedel and Zalto are both Austrian companies. Riedel dates back 11 generations to 1678 and steeped in the history of Bohemian crystal glass. Fast forward to 1973 and it was the first company to make machine-made varietal glasses. The glass promised to ‘emphasize the fruit …. to allow the bouquet to develop’. Zalto has roots in Murano, Venice dating back to the Middle Ages, but it was not until 2006 that the current mouth-blown, seamless glass collection hit the headlines. The shape is said to be inspired by the tilt angles of the earth. Like Riedel, the marketing copyrighters have been busy to claim that the glasses are ‘nearly too delicate to hold’. Surprisingly, there was no mention of Chenin Blanc in the single variety copy (nor for Riedel) but the universal White Wine glass suited as being ‘especially suited to fruit forward white wines’.
I poured the Chenin Blanc into each glass at the same level and at the ideal serving temperature. There were no differences in Appearance as one might expect the wine being pale lemon in colour. As with the similar red wine experiment, I assessed the nose from each glass without swirling to start, as this might best emphasize the differences between them, before swirling. The ISO glass showed simple lemon and lime citrus aromas that, even with swirling, showed limited intensity. The Riedel offered a greater steely minerality on the Nose – typical for this lean style Chenin Blanc – with similar lemon and lime but with delicate white spice and kiwi notes. Surprisingly, the glass brought out subtle vanilla aromas from the barrel-fermentation. Last, the Zalto glass showed the greatest intensity of aroma – more open – with a riper lemon and mineral character that was backed up by a gentle florality of white blossom.
The Chenin Blanc was bone dry on the palate. Like the Nose, the Palate with the ISO tasting glass was simple and one-dimensional, with the wine barely filling the mouth and showing modest length. The aroma profile followed through to the Palate for the Riedel with flavours of lemon, lime citrus, green melon, and kiwi. The big difference was how the broader glass rim led to a fuller mouthfeel with more pronounced alcohol, texture, and length. Further, the glass emphasized the bright, zesty acidity of the Chenin Blanc for a fresher experience. The Zalto glass on the other hand made for a subtler and softer feel to the wine to show off the lean mineral character with a more rounded elegance and finesse.
In drawing together the conclusions, I am mindful of the results from the comparison of the different glasses for the red wine as there are similarities. The ISO tasting glass offered a limited tasting experience, in terms of both aroma and flavours on the palate. The glass did not do justice to the wine and that is a sobering thought (pun intended) for the many Tasting Rooms that use this size and shape of glass as their standard. The Riedel and Zalto were closer in how they presented the wine than to the ISO glass. The Riedel better brought out the aromas and flavours in both intensity and complexity. Interestingly, and I am unsure why, I detected enhanced vanilla notes on the Nose for the Chenin Blanc and for the Cabernet Sauvignon during the red wine comparison tasting. The Zalto, meanwhile, displayed softer aromas and flavours of lesser intensity than the Riedel but with more refinement.
It certainly does seem therefore that bigger is better – and that size does matter 😊
2019 Oldenburg Chenin Blanc – R150