Georg Riedel is the Frank Sinatra of the stemware business. Selling glasses should be a fairly mundane business but the 63-year-old Austrian is a showman, more like ‘ol blue eyes’ than possibly he would care to admit.
Last night at the Lord’s cricket ground in London, Riedel conducted one of his tours de forces. He had a packed crowd of attentive, affluent wine drinkers ‘tasting’ water out of his wine glasses and eating chocolate almost out of his hand. We all know dark chocolate goes with Cabernet but white chocolate with Pinot Noir? The man is a stemware genius. Saying the 10th generation Riedel is just selling wine glasses is like saying Sinatra was just another night club crooner.
In his clipped, ‘korrect’, Austrian accent with occasional slips into New York, New York, the man kept telling the punters that it was science or specifically physics as to why Pinot tasted crap in a Cabernet glass, OK in a Syrah glass but superlative in his Pinot glass.
He kept calling his elegant Vitis glasses “just tools, delivering the business, attracting your senses”. He was at pains to emphasis that the glasses will not make “mediocre wine taste like a first growth” but the correct glass will improve the wine.
He is a bit of an iconoclast. He started by saying “room temperature is the same in Anchorage, on the Equator (not for everyone, Georg) and in Singapore – 24°C. He pronounced that 24°C is 6°C too high for red wine and everyone should put their bottle in a bucket of water with a few knobs of ice.
In an unsheathing one of his phallic looking decanters, Riedel drew gasps from the audience when he started shaking the wine like it was a Whisky Sour. We then got that gap-toothed grin that looks as though it could kill. He took off his lapel microphone and put it to the top of the decanter and the audience heard the wine cackling.
“That is the CO2 ladies and gentlemen," he almost cackled himself.
“A young wine is like a horse,” he said. “It is extremely vibrant. It needs taming. It has lots of life, the edges need bevelling and we need to reduce the tannins.” Lord knows how many decanters he sold on the strength of that.
To anyone who loves wine but has not come across Riedel before, it is little short of a life-changing event when it comes to wine service.The stemware equivalent of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. He and son Maximilian talk to 40,000 people a year. Spreading the word. He proved, ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the proper varietal-specific glass will show the wine at its best. I have done the ‘Riedel demonstration’ with the most sceptical, cynical of friends and even he had to acknowledge that the appropriate glass improved both the smell and the taste of the wine.
Liking Riedel glasses is a bit like being a Scientologist or a Moonie. Having a glass of wine now ‘in the korrect glass’ is verging on the sacramental… Well, Georg Riedel does it his way. Follow the path. It is almost ironic, the Riedel roadshow was held at Lord’s.