Through a glass, brightly

Jug Suraiya ponders over the mind-boggling number of wine glasses that can be paired with different varieties of wine

The celebrated Hungarian-born British film director, Alexander Korda, who had a deep abhorrence of anything he deemed to be chi-chi and pretentious, pooh-poohed the snobbish ritual surrounding the eating of caviar – involving a crystal serving bowl, a silver serving spoon, tiny pieces of melba toast on which the roe was placed, with finely chopped onions to act as garnish –
and declared that he always dug into the delicacy from a disused jam jar from which he extracted it with a large dessert spoon.

Not being a celebrated film director, or a celebrated anything else, I have not had many up-close and personal encounters with the comestible which in price and rarity is the equivalent of edible
gold dust.

However, when I was gifted a small pot of the epicurean delight as a birthday present from Bunny some years ago, Korda-like I ate it straight from the container with the aid of a capacious spoon, and can vouch that it made for a most agreeable repast.

Korda and caviar spring to mind when I come across oenophiles who debate the relative merits, and demerits, of drinking different kinds of wine from different types of glasses with all the impassioned intensity of medieval theologists dickering about the number of angels who could dance on the head of a pin.

Should champagne – or any effervescent wine – be drunk as it traditionally is from a flute, which makes the visually appealing bubbly effect last longer? Or, as revisionists would have it, should it be served in a shallower, widerimmed goblet, the better for its ‘nose’ to be appreciated?

That there ought to be different glasses for white wine and for red wine is as axiomatic a colour-coded acknowledgment as pink booties for little girls and blue booties for little boys.

But what about different kinds of white wines, and different kinds of red wine? Will a glass meant for a Chardonnay do double-duty and act as a standin for Chenin Blanc? Can a Pinot Grigio glass be press-ganged as a badli for a Riesling? Chablis stemware masquerade as that for Viognier without being exposed as the impostor that it is?

A rose by any other name might smell as sweet. But would a Brunello have the same mouthfeel, the same resonance, the same profundity, if doled out in something patently meant for a Côte du Rhône? A Malbec pass muster in something tailormade for Merlot? A Barolo be tricked out in the vitreous vestment suitable for Primitivo? Robert Parker forbid. Or, rather, Riedel forbid.

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Riedel – to rhyme with needle – is an Austrian company that has been making wine glasses from the 18th century, spanning nine generations of family business.

There’s a special Riedel glass for any wine you can think of, and even for some you can’t think of. There’s not just a special glass for Chardonnay, there’s a special, special glass for Oaked Chardonnay, as distinct from the Unoaked one. There’s a glass for Nebbiolo, and one for Pinot Noir, and for Bordeaux, and so on down the bibulous bibliography, presumably to Z for Zinfandel.

Riedel glassware costs the ransom admittedly not of a king but of at least a minor princeling, because each piece is specially shaped to enable the wine to reach those particular taste sensors most appropriate to it.

There’s a special Riedel glass for any wine you can think of, and even for some you can’t think of. There’s not just a special glass for Chardonnay, there’s a special, special glass for Oaked Chardonnay

The adult human tongue has between 2,000 and 4,000 taste buds, each with ten to 50 cells which interpret and convey to the brain the five basic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami, the last having been discovered by a Japanese scientist in 1910 and being the Japanese term for savoury.

Between them, our taste buds can orchestrate an almost endless symphony of flavours, particularly when conducted by a maestro like Riedel claims to be.

There’s only one small hitch, at least for me. After I’ve shelled out something like a thousand bucks a pop for a bunch of Riedels, I’ll have no lolly left for the wine to put into them. Catch was never more 22.

I think of this. I think of caviar. I think of Alexander Korda. And I think I’ll settle for most any sort of glass, with one proviso: that it possess a bottom. With which to say “Bottoms up!”.