Wine: A break with tradition
Maybe it's because I'm a wine writer that I'm fussy, but some of the ghastly vessels that pass as wine glasses often fail to do justice to the liquid in the bottle. Supping from the thick-rimmed Paris goblet for instance may be all right if you're a French village postie on breakfast plonk, but why put up with second best? A glass made of glass crystal with a tulip-shaped top to contain the aroma and an elegant stem to avoid warming the wine is what's needed to enhance a wine's qualities. And for everyday wines, similar, relatively inexpensive glasses are excellent alternatives and widely available.
For better than everyday wines, three of the best ranges of stemware come from Spiegelau, Schott-Zwiesel and Riedel. Georg Riedel, the Austrian glass manufacturer, is well-known in wine circles for encouraging wine consumers to drink out of a decent wine glass, albeit preferably his own. He designs glasses for different styles and grapes, from the obvious bordeaux and burgundy to chianti classico (a personal favourite), port, sauvignon, pinotage and even a special black glass to confuse blind tasters.
On one evangelical occasion in London, Georg Riedel clanged two of his giant balloon glasses together like cymbals. His father apparently used this theatrical gesture regularly to advertise his stemware's durability. Now Riedel and Zwiesel have locked horns over whose glasses are less breakable, but I still wouldn't recommend trying the Riedel trick at home. In fact, disillusioned by glasses that break constantly, I (and Georg Riedel) recommend using the dishwasher to significantly prolong the shelf life of your glasses. Now, two companies have come up with new technology which, if the claims are true, should put an end to breakage problems and allow us to get even more from our wines.
Mikasa's Open Up glass (from £20 for four glasses, www.mikasa-uk.com), made from a new material called Kwarx, claims that it "retains its original sparkle after more than 2,000 industrial washes" and offers "excellent resistance to mechanical shocks". ARC international, the manufacturer, is "jealously guarding" the formula, which is supposed to maintain lustre and transparency as well as rendering it unbreakable. I tried knocking the stout and sturdy Kwarx over on the table and then on to a stone floor, and it stubbornly refused to break. Only when I hurled it at the floor from a great height did it finally cave in. Conclusion: its redoubtable toughness makes it fantastic for picnics and it's a catering company's dream. They're so good that I worry about how many repeat orders they're going to get, though.
Costing around £11.95 each, the Breathable glass (www.eisch.de) claims very different, but equally revolutionary, properties. Eisch, the manufacturers, says that if you let the wine "breathe" for four minutes in the glass, it intensifies the wine's bouquet and flavour to the same extent that a decanted wine would take over a period of two hours. It comes with impressive endorsements, notably from Rhodes Twenty Four manager Ludovic Bargibant. Of course, the act of pouring into a glass automatically aerates a wine, and since the manufacturers are coy about the "special raw mixture material" the glass is made from, its claims are hard to prove. Still, it's a stunningly handsome glass, and the evidence from my amateurish experiment suggests that that's reason enough to buy one. The experiment was all too brief though, so I may just have to try again, and again...
Something for the weekend?
Under a Fiver: 2005 Tesco Finest Gavi
Tesco's Autumn Wine Festival includes this aromatic dry white from Piemonte; fresh pear fruitiness with the crisp, acid-drop acidity of the cortese grape. £4.49, to 10 October
Under a Tenner: 2003 Salentein, Valle de Uco, Argentina
A pure cabernet sauvignon from high-altitude vineyards in Mendoza displays sweetness on the nose with opulent cabernet cassis character. £7.19, down from £8.99, until tomorrow, Waitrose
Splash Out: 1999 Château Haut-Bergeron, Sauternes
This thick, intensely flavoured Bordeaux classic is enticingly aromatic; marzipan flavours and barley-sugar richness. Ideal with desserts or a great match for blue cheeses. £25.20, Nicolas shops
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