Labeling glasses "The Joker" and "The Killer of All Red Wines," Georg Riedel led more than 200 wine enthusiasts through an entertaining and eye-opening session on wine appreciation at the Halekulani last month ... using Riedel glasses, of course.
"We're in business because people rarely drink wine from the bottle. Only in emergency cases," Riedel said before announcing, "I am here to complicate your life."
The Riedel glass dynasty began in Bohemia in 1756, and Georg Riedel is the company's 10th-generation president. Such longevity suggests there are a lot of believers out there, though as late as 1989 Riedel was viewed as a crackpot by many in the wine industry. On hearing of Riedel's glass philosophy, Robert Mondavi is said to have angrily responded, "Young man, I have never heard such nonsense."
He changed his mind after sampling his own wines in Riedel's glasses.
But surely most of us don't need eight different glasses for eight different kinds of wines. Most people are content to have one matching set of wine glasses and a matching set of champagne flutes. Beyond that, how many have the time to fuss over where to pour their zins, syrahs, cabs or rieslings? Much less their proseccos and ports?
(The Vinum series of machine-made lead crystal actually comprises 16 wine glasses, with other selections for cognac, whisky, martinis and plain old water. Dozens of handmade and non-lead glasses are also available.)
"We drink wine not to quench thirst, but for pure pleasure," Riedel said. "If you're going to spend money on wine, it's important to go one step further. The better the wine, the more important it is to use the right instrument. It's like a magnifying glass showing off its best qualities."
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Vino and Hiroshi's Eurasian Tapas have used Riedel glasses since their opening days. La Mer just made the switch.
ANYONE SKEPTICAL of the claim that a glass, beyond the matter of simple aesthetics, can enhance or diminish the wine-drinking experience was a convert by the end of the evening.
Halekulani's La Mer, for one, made the switch to Riedel glasses exclusively in light of the demonstration that had the puniest white wine glass humorously labeled "The Joker."
Given the same 2002 Opus One in Riedel's Vinum Bordeaux glass and the Halekulani "Joker" glass, in the first case it tasted like the $160 wine it is; in the latter, it seemed to lose all its sultry elegance and complexity. It was watery and in a word, vile.
With five glasses in front of each participant, wines were poured from glass to glass, displaying marked differences in bouquet, palatability and mouth finish, even though it doesn't make much sense intellectually, because the wine ends up sloshing all around your mouth no matter how it goes in.
Riedel chalks it up to the first impression imprinted on the brain. The various glasses allow air space to maximize bouquet and layer aromas, and direct the flow of wine to various points on the tongue to minimize tannins, highlight flavors and textures -- whatever is needed to enhance a particular grape.
"My mission is to deliver these perfectly sharp instruments to convey the message of the wine," Riedel said. "The glasses change the perception of the wine; we're not changing the wine itself."
Georg Riedel shows some of his many fine precision "instruments."
At Vino at Restaurant Row, where wine is all-important, Riedel glasses have been used exclusively from Day 1. The same is true at neighboring Hiroshi's Eurasian Tapas.
At Chef Mavro, Riedels are used in food-and-wine pairings and for premium selections.
If the glasses' presence is limited elsewhere, it's because they're more fragile than other glasses, making them costly to carry in a commercial environment in which one must make allowances for klutzy help or customers. And there are several rules for washing, chief among them: NEVER twist base and bowl.
"It's like a love-hate relationship when you switch to Riedels," said Randy Ching, wine manager at La Mer. "To go from durable glasses to Riedels, we had to change our whole system, from bringing in a special dish washer to changing our racks.
"But they're great glasses that accent each variety. We just want to give guests at La Mer the best we can give."
As for spoiled, fussy diners who can drink out of nothing but Riedel glasses, one workshop guest said she always carries her own set when she's heading out to restaurants, just in case they have none.
If you want a set or more of your own, glasses run about $40 to $90 per box of four at Williams-Sonoma, Ala Moana.