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On Tasting
Broken Glasses, Tasting Cups, Chinese Misadventures and Tailgating
Thursday, 8th August, 2013  - David Farmer

In my constant search for personal advancement and tips for displaying a worldly air I was attracted to a Bloomberg video (July 15th) of Margareth Henriquez, the CEO of Champagne House Krug being interviewed by Susan Li. CEO material no question but she knocked me sideways by announcing that drinking from a Champagne flute was out, so out, that it's a 'big problem' as we should be drinking from white wine glasses; to which Ms Li responded 'I'm shocked'.

Shocked indeed as what am I to do with my collection of flute ware. Years ago with great reluctance I did what many drinkers have done and tossed out those wide flat Champagne glasses; though I have kept a crystal set with hollow stems which are only used for the rarest of wines as they are impossible to clean.

Now I feel better about the odd flute I have broken at dinner parties, they are such fragile things, knowing they are worthless. This thought has made me recall an after party kitchen experience which was to bring a brand new dinner party set crashing to the kitchen floor while assisting in the drying, though the details I will leave to another time.

Memories of my first trip to France are a bit vague but it was around 1966 and I recall the huge glasses that appeared when the sommelier was advancing his cause for a tip. They made great theatre as did the use of the shallow, silver saucer called a tastevin for assessing the wine. Strangely I have not noticed them being used in Australian restaurants for decades and does this mean my experience with this vessel has dated?

How you serve wine is terribly important and this introduction is simply to present my credentials on matters of glassware.

To standardize a wine judging all tasters should use the same glass shape. In about 1977 an international tasting glass was approved known as the ISO XL5 and this became the standard used in wine judging though the shape had been developed decades earlier.

In the late 1970s I was in and out of China and learnt they produced all sorts of things very cheaply. I took a copy of the ISO specifications to a trade fair and asked if they could copy the glass. At the time a glass of this design was hard to find in Australia and similar types were $10 each. A set a six glasses back then was a major purchase.

After playing with the numbers I found I could land a box of 48 Chinese glasses in Sydney for $12. Toss in a bit of freight, a profit margin and we were in business. I sold these in the liquor stores we had in Canberra and used them as give-a-ways with a carton of wine. Sure they were not the quality of the best European stem ware but good enough.

Oliver Shaul a famed Sydney restaurateur with a few restaurants including the revolving Summit got to hear about them and ordered a container. Sight unseen by me, from the glass maker to the customer, business was looking good. Alas these glasses in commercial dishwashers disintegrated into many parts. Business was suddenly looking a lot harder.

I continued to import and noted wide variability in the quality and instead of improving the glasses became more and more odd. I was unfazed that people failed to understand the artisanal nature of these glasses the product of age old skills.

They were made in three parts. A base which varied was stuck to a stem which varied while a blown bowl which varied was placed on top. By now the Chinese story was underway and large department stores and others were in the cheap glassware business and the rest as they say is history.

Thus with this background as a glassware expert I have viewed the proclaimed miraculous powers that glasses bring to tasting wine with some skepticism. Still drinking wine is, to use a football term, a game of two halves; half is what is in the glass and the other is how you view yourself, how you deport, and of course what you are holding.

I'm all for show time and if its fun count me in. So it was that a failing glass company in Austria, Riedel revived its fortunes by giving show time a real push forward and while China smashed the price barrier downward, smart Austrians pushed a range of designer glasses upward.

Let's be very frank about this. You are a no-body without your own personal glassware design so let me bring you up to date. From Drinks Business:

The Richard Juhlin Champagne glass

Patrick Schmitt 31st January, 2012; "A glass is being launched in the UK which promises to be the perfect shape for Champagne, whatever the style. First manufactured in 1999, the glass has been created by Champagne specialist Richard Juhlin at Sweden's Reijmyre Glassworks, and has, until now, only been sold in Sweden, although it is used by a handful of Champagne houses....... The glass has also been made to look "elegant", with an elongated appearance so drinkers can watch the stream of bubbles rise to the surface.

"However, its convex sides and narrow rim allow the Champagne to be swirled, while ensuring the aromas are concentrated at the top of the glass".

Among a list of approving Champagne houses I notice Krug is absent.

The Mark Thomas double bend glass

Gabriel Savage 26th June, 2013; "Austrian firm Mark Thomas has launched a wine glass featuring what it claims is a unique double bend design that offers "a true and perfect all-rounder." The 500ml MT-db glass has a conical base, designed to accommodate small tasting pours and make it easier to swirl the wine. The glass then bends and widens to allow the wine to breathe, before a second bend narrows it sharply to concentrate aromas. Mark Thomas sales manager Thomas Zichtl told the drinks business that its design "aerates the wines as well as much bigger glasses", while the double bend "brings in additional stability due to a different stress ratio on the glass"."

Patrick Schmitt 6th June, 2012: "Speaking to the drinks business in Hong Kong last week, [Berry Bros] Alun Griffiths MW......said there would be seven glasses in the collection and that they would be positioned "a little above Riedel's Vinum range". The historic wine company already has a set of three glasses designed by Simon Berry's grandfather....However, the glasses..... are deemed too small by today's standards... for fine wines such as grand cru red Burgundy. The new range of glasses, which will be made by John Jenkins and Sons.......In terms of the range, Griffiths said he was particularly pleased with the Champagne glass.

"It's still a flute but has more of a bulbous shape to it," he said, which allows the contents to be swirled, releasing more of the delicate aromatic components in the wine".

Quite a few years ago Riedel enlisted the aid of the noted Australian wine writer James Halliday and I recall he appeared in advertisements. Riedel with this boost became the glass of choice and they soon spread to the four corners of our brown land. In the show judging ring they replaced the now puny looking ISO XL5 glasses. Back in Austria Riedel became unstoppable and they cranked out a glass for every wine variety.

I went to a tasting in Kings Cross, in I recall 2003, as the bribe was a free set of Riedel glasses. At some point the Riedel sales executive rose and explained how each glass was designed for a specific variety with the angle of pour onto the tongue being aimed at just the right group of taste cell detectors. You may have forgotten but back then maps of the tongue existed which showed where you taste sweet, sour, bitter and so on. So I leapt to my feet pointing out this was a great load of BS and was promptly told to sit down.

By this time I had an office full of Riedels and numerous other brands which were flooding the market. I must shamefully confess that I get terribly confused telling the difference between the nebbiolo glass and the cabernet glass, and even which brand is what, and I tend to just grab the nearest.

Still you must do your best to keep up as newer; even better glasses are still, being blown. It did however come as a surprise to see a senior wine writer for Decanter do a puff for a new glass, the Zalto Denk'Art, and it must have been a very difficult piece to write. Here is a choice quote:

" 'Denk', by the way, refers the Wachau's celebrated 'wine priest': Father Hans Denk of Albrechtsberg, considered one of Austria's finest tasters, and a man who knows the Wachau's crus as well as any. He initially resisted involvement, but became interested, Zalto's Martin Hinterleitner told me, after a physics professor suggested that the key angle in the glass design should reflect that of the earth's axial tilt (something also said to have been instrumental in the shapes of amphorae)'".

Perhaps this was the type of glass that would impress Margareth Henriquez so I investigated. This is what I found:

"The development of the Denk'Art series was as influenced by the earth as by the universe beyond. The curve of the bowls are tilted at the angles of 24, 48 and 72 degrees, which are in accordance to the tilt angles of the Earth. The ancient Romans utilized this triumvirate of angles with their supply repositories, finding that produce stayed fresh for a longer time, and that it also showed improved taste. Due to these cosmic parallels, we believe that a wine can reach its utmost potential in a Denk'Art glass, developing everything that is possible in the nose as well as on palate, due to these cosmic parallels".

Zalto do have a Champagne glass and as I was pondering if it was right for the Krug 1996 I have lying in London, I received a tip from the worldly and wise Brian Miller, which read 'see the new tailgating glass'. The new 'wine sippy cup' has no parallel in this universe and is an invention that could only come from the country that allowed Andy Warhol to flower. Indeed this glass displays genius of the highest order and is possible the greatest advance since the Spanish 'bota de vino' made from goats hide. I quote:

The Wine Sippy cup or Tailgater

"A wine lover's dream come true! Now you can take that vino on the go-go! The Wine Sippy Cup has a familiar wine glass shape in a spill resistant double wall tumbler, so you can sip your wine in style without worrying about spilling on your outfit. Perfect for the beach, park, tailgating, or other fast-paced adventures ..."

This glass could do well in Australia and I note in a recent Wine Gourmet Traveller, five full page advertisements for glassware, including Riedel, Spiegelau, and Waterford, showing us how much glassmakers support our magazines and the wines we love; so perhaps this is the magazine in which to expose the 'tailgater'.

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