Recently, I was privy to a glass tasting. It’s a curious activity, wherein the conductor tries to draw your attention to the fact that if you change the glass, you can end up changing the way the drink tastes. Of course, the original glass and the destination (transfer) glass are of different shapes, but beyond that, there are no hidden party tricks here. The notion upon which the entire glass industry is propped is very simply this: aromas have different wavelengths, and different shapes and lengths of the glass bowl can alter the way these evolve and emanate. Further to this, as different shapes of the rim will end up delivering the drink to different parts of your tongue, certain sensations will feel accentuated, while others end up getting muted. Depending on what type of a beverage it is, a skilled bartender or sommelier will deploy the right shape to bring out the best in that wine in that precise moment. In a somewhat large nutshell, this is pretty much the crux of the glassware industry.
But a lot of variables, as also debates, need to be addressed along the way. First, the fact that many people don’t believe that the infinitesimally small difference in the composition of aromatic compounds can actually be altered (or rather, guided) by simply changing the shape of the receptacle. Another issue is that while some people prescribe to the theory that the tongue has compartmentalised zones for sensing the four tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter), others contend that it’s more general, a sensory organ in nature, so it doesn’t matter where the drink lands as long as it passes the palate en route to the stomach.
So, for the sake of a glass tasting, these two assumptions have to be made: (a) aromas of different wavelength resonate differently as per the glass bowl shape; and (b) the tongue does, in fact, have taste zones with the middle being utterly dead to all and any flavours.
Then the exercise proceeds as follows: the conductor makes you taste a particular wine first in a generic all-purpose wine glass and then by transferring it into the appropriate shape as defined by the brand. The exercise is repeated with four-five wines, each time starting with the dummy glass before trying the same wine in the adapted stemware. OK, to let the cat out of the bag, I was the one conducting these exercises and the glasses I used were from the Desire series from Lucaris, a sub-brand from Ocean, the Thai glass-manufacturing giant. They have developed various shapes and forms (including a patented Aerlumer technology, which, allegedly, helps aerate wines better), all meant to bring out the best in specific wine styles—crisp white wines, rich whites, soft elegant reds and big full-bodied reds.
Other brands, if I may add, have also developed similar glass ranges to address different types of wines (or wines from different grapes) and have their own ritual method to demonstrate it. Be it Lucaris or any other, I do feel there is merit to the exercise; a significant difference can be felt in the way the wines smell and taste, depending on which glass they are tasted out of. All this is not to say that as long as you have an expensive glass, all is better, for if you put a crisp white wine, for example, into the glass intended for big bold reds, once again you will be disappointed. The idea is to not stray too far from their module.
The caveat is that sometimes we can unknowingly get led along by the conductor and end up agreeing with everything we are told at these tastings. At other times, the wines refuse to open up no matter how many times we change glasses with it. As I mentioned above, too many variables. That said, at my session, most of us agreed that the wines did taste different: significantly in some cases and only mildly in others, sometimes more aromatic and at others, smoother and better rounded on the palate.
Well, wine has never been a monolithic joy for me. It’s about all the senses, not just smell and taste, but also including sight and touch. Holding a dainty stem in my hands and swirling the wine around in it like a mini eddy before I roll my head back and sip from it are all part of the enjoyment. Even if changing glasses is no more than a placebo, I admit it’s a very fine one and I am happy to choose to believe in it than not. The only problem that remains then is coming up with all that space to cram all those extra glasses at home!
The writer is a sommelier