Wine and Pretension

I recently had a chat about someone who claimed that drinking wine from one particular wine glass made the wine taste better than from another. Of course, the glass that makes it taste so delicious is extremely expensive.

We chatters pretty much all agreed that the guy was pretentious or deluded. He may BELIEVE that it tastes different, but it doesn’t really.

Of course, we can have the discussion about what constitutes taste. That is, if I believe it tastes different, then doesn’t that mean that it does taste different to me? Sort of like believing you’re happy or in love. But let’s not have that discussion.

Red wine is supposed to breathe, so red wine glasses supposedly need to be wide enough to allow air to hit a large part of the surface of the wine. But a cheap glass can be wide, too. And if you drink it right after you pour it, then there’s not a lot of breathing going on.

So the point is that the same molecules, in more or less the same mix, would enter the mouth and nose regardless of which glass you use. I know that smell is a big part of taste, and maybe the curve of the glass could slightly affect the way that the wine gets to your nose, but not enough to make any discernible difference.

I stand corrected.

Friday night, I was presented with two different glasses of the same white wine. I swirled and sipped one. Then I swirled and sipped the other one. I tried it a few times. I wasn’t sure I could really tell a difference, but one seemed slightly smoother than the other. I won’t bother trying to explain it better than that. It was extremely subtle, but there seemed to be some tiny little difference.

So I said, “I don’t know whether I can tell a difference, but if I can, I like glass X better than Y.”

No one was surprised. Out of five people trying it, all five chose the same glass. Subtle or no, there’s obviously something going on. In this case, both glasses were expensive, and the same brand, but the one we didn’t like was called the “Extreme.” Maybe sophisticated wine drinkers would like that little extra harshness. Maybe that harshness is the true flavor of the wine. I don’t know.

But I have to take back all my little snorts about how people pay more for nothing when they only buy a certain kind of wine glass. I’m shocked and pleased to do so.

6 Responses to Wine and Pretension

  1. Kevin August 2, 2007 at 7:58 am #

    Riedel & Spiegelau have both recently started moving “down market” with some of their designs, selling them in Target and Linens & Things. I bought a set of Riedel glasses for whisky, as that’s something I enjoy occasionally. Can I tell the difference? Nah. To be honest, I’m just not that sophisticated. But I like the idea that I’m at least trying, within my own means.

  2. weeklyrob August 2, 2007 at 4:06 pm #

    Maybe after a few years drinking from that glass, you’ll notice when you don’t.

  3. BruceS August 3, 2007 at 6:27 pm #

    I’ve noticed differences with both wine and whiskey (& whisky!) in how each tastes with different glasses. It seems to be mainly about how the glass directs the smell to the nose. I’ve done side-by-side tests, though not double-blind, and tried to be objective. In my case, the preferred glasses, like all my glasses, are fairly cheap.

  4. weeklyrob August 4, 2007 at 9:06 am #

    Bruce: Do you mean that you’ve done side by side tests using different cheap glasses and then chose the best of those cheap glasses?

  5. BruceS August 6, 2007 at 6:43 pm #

    Yes. I tried a variety of glasses, with different shapes, using the same wine. I later did the same with other drinks.

  6. Mom August 23, 2007 at 3:15 pm #

    Very interesting discussion. We use many different shaped glasses for our red wines from HUGE glasses that actually hold 24 oz. (checked it out with water) to normal red wine glasses to stemless wine glasses to tumblers. We just thought it was nice to set the table differently from time to time.
    Now I’ll have to taste drinking the same wine in different glasses. Oh what fun!
    Larry drinks bourbon in various glasses as well. He can also experiment and see what’s what.

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