Albert Cilia-Vincenti

The previous introductory article laid down some basic rules on how to approach wine in order to understand and enjoy it, and why one needs to learn how to taste.  We shall continue expanding on this theme.  I shall keep emphasizing that you should be guided by two basic questions: ‘How much do I like what’s in the glass?’ & ‘How do I know how much I like it?’  The answer to these questions should not be that you have seen the label and know the price.  You learn how to taste so that you can appreciate the wine’s aromatic and flavour characteristics even before you’ve looked at its label.

The right glasses are important because they definitely enhance your wine enjoyment.  Funnel-shaped glasses, however beautiful and valuable they might be, such as those in figure 1 (which belong to Comtesse de Lalande of Château Pichon-Longueville in Bordeaux), do not transmit the wine’s aromas to your nose as efficiently as the more modern tulip-shaped clear glasses, such as the one in figure 2.  The glass rim should be thin enough for close sensual contact between wine and lip, and its bowl should be big enough to hold a proper ration without being filled to the brim.  The glass should, in fact, not be more than a third to half full, so that you can swirl the wine in the glass to wet all the inside of the glass, thus increasing evaporation and aromatic pick-up by your olfactory senses.

One frequently forgotten precaution is to make sure the glass is clean.  Foul smells from cupboards or dirty dish-cloths linger on the glass surfaces and can ruin your enjoyment of a quality wine, because the first thing you smell is not the wine’s bouquet but that unpleasant smell.  Each time a wine glass comes out of a cupboard, it should be rinsed under a hot water tap and dried with a clean dish-cloth.  If you think this is ridiculously obsessional, I can assure you that I have been treated to this annoying ruining of wine several times.  On these occasions I wonder why the hosts haven’t noticed the foul smell in the glass. The reason is they don’t smell wine – they drink it like water without knowing that wine tasting starts with lingering on the wine’s bouquet – betraying an indifference and ignorance of wine irrespective of their culinary education. 

One particular Austrian manufacturer of very high quality (and price) modern wine glasses claims the precise shape of the bowl and rim has a significant effect on our tasting perception.  This is true, and the right shape of glass for red Bordeaux should be different from that for red Burgundy, and the glass for Riesling should be different from that for Chardonnay.  However, it is difficult to accept these glass manufacturers’ claims that the glasses for Syrah and Sangiovese should be different, which sound very much like marketing ploys to drain your pocket.  A range of glasses similar to those in figure 3 is more than enough – starting from the left, these glasses would suit sherry/port, white wine, Champagne, high quality red wine, more ordinary red wine and, finally, Burgundy.

Albert Cilia-Vincenti is a long-standing member of the UK’s Wine Society (1874), and founding committee member of Il-Qatra Wine Club (1999).