Shaping Flavor

Timothy Nishimoto, co-owner of Vino Paradiso in the Pearl, has attended two tasting seminars run by Riedel, and he graciously lined up some glasses to compare. Up to 80 percent of what we call “taste” is actually smell, and while we can distinguish just five general tastes (sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami, meaning meaty or savory), our noses are more sensitive, allowing us to discriminate among thousands of compounds. When Nishimoto pours a 2005 Raptor Ridge pinot noir into a glass designed for the wine, the wide, tapering bowl emphasizes the aroma. “You don’t have to get your nose right in there,” he points out. “You’re enjoying it before you’re drinking it.”

The aroma of the same wine served in a smaller, less-tapered glass is harder to appreciate because the wine has less surface area in contact with the air, and the aromas are not as well concentrated by the glass’s wider opening. A tall, straight chimney glass hides the wine’s bouquet even more, and after the thin stemware, the thick rolled rim seems clumsy on the lips.

Up to 80 percent of what we call “taste” is actually smell. Our noses are sensitive, allowing us to discern thousands of compounds.

But does this mean you should go out and get a different glass for every wine variety? “I think that’s silly,” says Heathman Hotel sommelier Jeff Groh. “We have burgundy and Bordeaux glasses, and that’s good enough to get us through 700 different wines.”

Mimi Martin, of the Wine and Spirit Archive in Southeast Portland, acknowledges the popularity of varietal stemware shapes, but says that using one glass for all varieties of wine facilitates the comparison of one wine to another. “What is most important for tasting is that the glass have a large-enough bowl to allow you to swirl the wine; that the lip of the glass is narrow; and that the glass is tulip-shaped—the lip narrower than the base—to focus the aromas,” Martin says. Ken Collura, of the Pearl District’s Andina restaurant and the Pearl Wine Shop, adds that a short stem is good for avoiding breakage.

Traditionalists, however, favor a long stem, which allows the glass to be held without transferring body heat to the wine and unsightly fingerprints to the bowl.