Shattered Myths – from the Gourmet archive

tongue map A great piece of wine writing has just become accessible: oddly, with the closing of Gourmet magazine, Gourmet.com has made the classic article “Shattered Myths” available for free.

Written by NPR contributor Daniel Zwerdling back in 2004, the story starts at a tasting with Riedel stemware, which the attendees loved and bought $1,000 worth of the crystal afterward. Then the author reviews some scientific studies about taste and olfactory analysis of wine in different vessels, which clashed with the what he had seen at the Riedel demonstration. So the author put the question to Georg Riedel. Click through to see Riedel’s reply.

The article then turns to a fascinating and important discussion about perceptions and wine, much of which we have discussed since 2004 in various ways here and elsewhere. The now-available article is an oldie but a goodie and well worth the read if you haven’t already seen it.

Related: “Shattered Myths” [Gourmet]
Varietal stemware: genius or hucksterism?
The Tongue Map: Tasteless Myth Debunked” [LiveScience]
Wine’s Pleasures: Are They All in Your Head?” [NYT]

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14 Responses to “Shattered Myths – from the Gourmet archive”


  1. Read the newly avail. Zwierdling article: the way the Riedel rep leads the group into each taste and reaction is worthy of the sham-wow guy.

    She says she gets nothing from the Joker glass; people agree. Were she to say she got the same level of intensity from that glass, can you guess what people would do? Yup, probably agree with her.

    That being said, I do like holding a Riedel (or Spieglau, or the 2.98€ glasses I can get at restaurant supply stores here in Paris) better than the cheap $1 tasting glasses. That’s just aesthetics, though, isn’t it? And has little to do with the wine. Though it helps the whole experience…


  2. “Riedel and other high-end glasses can make wine taste better. Because they’re pretty. Because they’re delicate. Because they’re expensive. Because you expect them to make the wine taste better.” That point really struck me. We do often speak about the impact of expectation on the way we perceive things. As a result, to more effectively taste wine, we do it blind. However, if these blind tastings take place in more expensive glasses, are the wines not being treated with an expectation that could improve our sense of them? I’m curious of it all, knowing how powerful the mind can be.


  3. Too late, Riedel is already fabulously rich and known throughout the world as the best wine glass. My roomate likes his wine in a coffee mug. I think preconceived notions have such a great impact that we can be confused into loving whatever. I think if you like a wine, it will taste delicious out of a paper cup, better yet, right out of the bottle has been my favorite vessel on certain occasions.


  4. It is useful to understand that there are kinds of reasons to choose stemware. Some of it is for show. I have a couple dozen different patterns of Champagne/sparkling wine stems purchased two at a time, and they are all for show.

    I have a small collection of Baccarat glasses. They set one hell of a lovely table. Yes, they are all for show. One does not taste better out of them if you are blindfolded, but if context matters, and I believe that it does, even for folks like me who claim to know better than to believe that it is the wine that is changing, then showy stemware does have a place.

    Over the years, I have tried out all kinds of tasting glasses and have switched brands several times. For the last decade and a half, however, we have tasted, in our blind sessions, with Riedel Overture Reds. We taste all varieties that way, and we are satisfied that this glass represents the wines extremely well.

    Even bubbles. We drink bubbles out of showy glasses at every occasion, but we taste them with Overture Reds and they probably show better in those glasses. But, context is important, and sitting around drinking, as opposed to tasting analytically, we like drinking from showy sparkling wine glasses.

    Now, as to the Riedel tastings. They are not to be taken seriously–except for this. No matter how you slice it, good wine glasses are a lot better than poorly designed glasses.

    But, at the Reidel tasting, Georg Riedel trotted out first his oversized Burgundy balloon with the round, so-called “chimney” top edges. Yes, Burgundy did taste good out of that glass. And then he treated us to claret out of an oversized claret glass. It worked just fine.

    What came next was not supposed to happen. We, being the bad boys we were sitting in the last row, poured out the Burgundy and poured the claret into the Burgundy glass. And the claret showed far more nose in the Burgundy glass than in the claret glass. But it tasted the same.

    So, for me, I have concluded that wine tastes better out of different shaped glasses because those glasses look good–not because they taste good.


  5. Thanks for posting the story! I remember it well, for two reasons: First, because I already had a sneaking suspicion that the whole wine glass preference business was circular: The glass you like best is the glass you think is best.

    Second, because I was shocked at the unseemly eagerness of the press to report a finding that would support the status quo, to the point of not returning the calls of the original study source! I must be some kind of idiot; I always thought reporters were supposed to be skeptical.


  6. Loved reading this. Atmosphere is nearly everything,I think.I love drinking wine at home from my Tritan Fortes (various sizes at only about $8/$9 a stem), but I know it’s because the glasses are pretty but sturdy,have a thin lip and will go right in the dishwasher. All those things – the physical characteristics plus the price plus the ease of care are important to my enjoyment. The wine too, of course, but I don’t think the glass affects the taste much. I’m perfectly happy drinking inexpensive (but decent quality) wine out of a plastic cup at a tailgate because, well,that’s what you do at a tailgate. The wine would taste worse from that cup at home, but that’s all in my head.

    Having said all that, as long as people are happy with the deal they’ve struck and know what that deal is, then all’s well. Many people probably think the ability to serve wine in a Reidel is worth its cost and fragility. I wouldn’t begin to second-guess that decision.


  7. Charlie, thanks for sharing that experience.

    Dave/The Wine Mule – yes, I didn’t comment on that part of the story in the post but the closing section does reveal, as you point out, a shocking display of journalistic ineptitude. I wonder whether today, in an time when blogging is more important, such a “scientific” story would be simply regurgitated whole or actually verified?


  8. With all due respect, bloggers are the kings of regurgitation. Most are not journalists (present company excepted, of course) and most don’t pretend to be. In general they repost and react. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s not journalism.

    And one tiny correction: Zwerdling’s piece has been available on the gourmet.com site for quite some time.


  9. It’s all about tradition. When I’m serving really classic, old school French food, I merely dump it on the bare table sans silverware and at the end of the meal I pour a pot of hot water over the whole mess to let it run onto the floor. The dogs lick up the scraps and the guests are able to wipe their hands upon the fur of the dogs.

    When it comes to wine glasses, it’s hard to argue science or practicality because so much of the appeal is purely aesthetic: the people you’re drinking with, the quality of the food you’re consuming, the music in the background, what sort of mood you’re in… After a round of boxing or karate practice, a slug of whiskey or stein of beer might be refreshing, but that glassware is going to survive your adrenaline rush and your taste buds aren’t going to care one way or the other.

    I think you have to be at least somewhat relaxed and meditative to truly appreciate wine, and the finer, more delicate stemware can only be handled and used properly when you’re in such a state. Likewise, if you care about the appearance of your overall table, it’s an art form to provide the proper glasses for the proper courses.


  10. Hi James,

    Yes, true, there is a lot of regurgitating. I guess I was wondering if “crowdsourcing” might catch something like this that didn’t seem to pass the sniff test. Clearly those journalists involved in the events at the end of “Shattered Myths” did more than simply regurgitating; they didn’t even respond to requests for clarification. At least in a blog, someone could post a comment.

    I guess my comments as to the newness of the story were based on our discussion from a couple of years ago when it was not available. Glad it is now.

    Sorry that Gourmet’s closing brings an end to an outlet for this type of wine writing on display in this piece.


  11. Without wanting to be a shill, I have always like Bottega del Vino’s crystal and their approach. (Full disclosure: we sold them for a short period a few years ago.) Their motto is “If the wine matters, so does the glass” and everything they do is handmade. Their emphasis is more on having a terrific, hand made, mouth blown stem to go along with a handmade product. I love that they are not all the same and that they are more durable than others. In a nutshell, they fit into my lifestyle because they are crafted like the wine I like to drink and because they are dishwasher friendly.


  12. Sadly, Tyler, I don’t think reporting on scientific studies has gotten much better in the age of blogging. Even now, scientific findings are usually either exaggerated (“A is correlated with B under C and D conditions” becomes “science proves that A causes B!!!”) or completely misinterpreted (as was the case for the study mentioned in the article).

    Hats off to Daniel Zwerdling for such a smart, thoughtful piece! It makes me sad to think Gourmet will soon be a thing of the past.


  13. I attended a Riedel glass class here in Beijing three years ago and – looking back at my write-up – it seems the marketing strategy in China is the same, i.e. use of the tongue map. Here’s an excerpt:

    “A dozen of us began with a Chardonnay served, as you might guess, in a Riedel Chardonnay glass. A few sniffs and sips later, we poured the wine into one of those small glasses commonly used by restaurants and bars. The effect was striking. The bouquet seemed much weaker and the taste sour, as the smaller glass’ shape directed the wine away from the tip of our tongues, where our sense of sweetness lies.”

    The rest is here:
    http://www.grapewallofchina.com/2007/08/08/riedel-a-glass-of-any-other-shape/

    To me, a key difference between the Riedel and the smaller non-Riedel glasses was in terms of aromas – I found more of them when using the former. I wonder if wine might taste better in those bigger Riedel glasses because, when we take a sip, we also take in more aromas? Not sure, but I *did* end up buying new glasses — 22-ounce Stone Island ones about the same size as the Riedel I used, but costly only USD1.50 per piece.

    Cheers, Jim Boyce


  14. I have found the best way to drink the high alcohol, “fruit forward” wines of today is not with a Riedel wine glass, but from a tumbler and through a straw deeply inserted in my mouth beyond my taste buds.


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