Crystal Wine Glass Magnate Josef Riedel Dies

Thanks to Pete who pointed me to today's New York Times article (free registration required) announcing that wine glass innovator Josef Riedel died last week of a heart attack in Italy. If you've never heard or used a Riedel (pronounced like 'needle') wine stem you are likely missing out on truly tasting the full flavor experience of any wine you drink.

I know. Sounds silly doesn't it. How can a wine glass change the way a wine tastes. The converted are a cult-like group. Many will carry their own stems into a restaurant that serves wine in thick fish bowls that can stand the rigors of a restaurant kitchen. I converted many years ago.

I actually met Georg Riedel, Josef's son, at a “glass tasting“. With my tongue in cheek and suitcase full of wise cracks I was determined to call this thick accented Austrian to the carpet. But I was amazed. I never experienced the aromatic of a wine before. The true test was comparing the typical restaurant wine glass with the same wine in a Riedel stem.

Josef Riedel focused on one of the sensitive parts of our body — our tongue and the inside of our mouths (Linda Lovelace try a Riedel stem). He found that different wines and spirits tasted differently based on where the 'juice' fell on your palate. So he spent years designing stemware with different shapes and sizes based on the varietal.

[…] He spent 16 years studying the physics of wine delivery to the mouth and taste buds and experimenting with different glass configurations, matching them with wines of different regions, different grapes and different ages.

The size of a glass, its thickness, the shape of its bell and the diameter of its rim contributed materially to the taste of the wine drunk from it, Mr. Riedel came to believe. The wine's balance, depth, harmony and complexity, he discovered, could and often did change from one glass to another. When told that the glasses he created would have limited market appeal, he said: “Aesthetics and excellence are my criteria, not mere convenience.” […]

Over the last 10 years Josef's son Georg has circumnavigated the globe preaching the value of pairing the proper glass with a specific wine. The grass roots effort has paid off. Riedel created a category and a wave of me-too competitor copycats has followed. But none are as good nor as well known as Riedel. But they are cheaper. And as any good marketing or branding expert will agree, if all you've got to compete with is a lower price you will certainly grab sales — not customers — loyal customers.

I've got more than 3 dozen Riedel stems – for burgundy, bordeaux/cabernet, chardonnay, syrah, port and chianti/Brunello.

Photos: (1) The last drops of a non-decanted 1995 Araujo Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley sticking to the size of a Riedel Vinum Bordeaux stem; (2) Hundreds of Riedel Vinum glasses lined up for a legendary 2000 Bordeux tasting I atteneded recently (yet to blog).