‘The thing about Zaltos’, I pompously opined, ‘is that they look delicate but they’re actually surprisingly strong’. He looked at me bemusedly. Look, I said, ‘Look how they can actually flex if you squeeze them slightly’.
The glass shattered in my hands. “Ben – I’m so sorry – I’ll buy you a replacement”
These beautiful but fragile glasses that you could almost balance on your little finger are bound up with the new movement of acidity dominant wines and traditional winemaking styles.
At times they are almost too precise and uncharitable on a wine that make drinking for pleasure a bit difficult. They put the balance of a wine pretty mercilessly under the spotlight.
In the UK they were so popular there was quite a waiting list to order them as every restaurant looked at the other Jones’ and wanted the same glass.
To my mind everything about wine, including the glasses we drink it from reflects a cultural moment, a soft indication of a system of belief of the consumer and the producer. Certain Napa trophy wines seem to me to be mostly made and consumed by a certain ‘bigger is better’ wealthy, ‘Republican’ mindset. Wines like statues devoted to their needy owners. Riedel was the glassware of choice, endorsed by Bob Parker. Indeed – when I poured a full-bodied Shiraz into the Zalto, it didn’t quite work – was it all in my head?
In Robert Parkers Wine Guide he writes in his breezily confident fashion: “The finest glasses for both hedonistic and technical purposes are those made by the Riedel Company of Austria” – Georges’ mission he says, “Is to provide the ‘finest tools’ enabling the taster to capture the dull potential of a particular varietal”. And this was the stall he set out in the 1990s – to provide a different glass for each different wine. That was a lot of glasses – in both his expensive hand-blown Sommelier series and the cheaper Vinum range, there was everything from the Grand Cru Pinot Noir glass to (cringe) the Coca Cola and Prosecco glass.
Where are we now? Going back to weedy ‘Democrat’ wines, sipped from these wafer-thin glasses, in rooms of bare brick and distressed wood. Wines with high acidity and traditional leanings. Men in tortoiseshell glasses, French worker shirts and soft hands from experiencing no harder labour then tapping on their laptops all day.
We did have a Riedel sales rep into our shop back in the day to lead a tasting with different glasses and different wines – and I don’t know, some people found it worthwhile. For me, and I imagine most others, they just brought the Chianti / Riesling glasses and drank everything out of them. They were good glasses, made by the Spiegelau factory under license from Riedel.
Indeed – It was this fact that led us to purchase 400 of them to run our tasting program with. Before then, we were using the miserly ISO glasses, that resemble tiny sherry copitas and are used for the WSET Wine Education program in the UK. It makes me cringe to look back and remember we were using them to serve such wines as 1942 Vega Sicila and Henri Jayer Echezeaux. Oh my days! Xavier Ausus, the winemaker from VS took us to one side after the tasting and suggested maybe we upgrade.