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A GLASS FOR EVERY WINE: TESTS SHOW SHAPE AND SIZE DO MATTER

You can drink wine from a klutzy tumbler; you can drink wine from a crystal goblet. So here comes the big question: Does the glass you choose make a difference to the taste?

Plenty of people say it does and a lot of these people are wine experts. A glass is not just a glass - not if you're in the know.

"I have always found it amazing that most of my wine-loving friends tend to ignore the fact that top stemware is just as important as making the right choice in wine," wrote wine guru of gurus Robert M. Parker Jr.

In fact, experts point out that the more complex the wine, the more important the glass. And we're not just talking aesthetics either, though a pretty glass is always nice.

The prevailing theory is that a properly designed glass increases the drinker's appreciation of the wine's nuances - its bouquet and its fruit, acid, tannin and alcohol content. Frankly, I've always been a wee bit suspicious about this, detecting what I thought was a hint of marketing push, but judging from a wine tasting held last week by the Tasters Guild at the Eagle House, the concept is sound.

More than 40 of us tasted four different wines, each in four differently shaped and sized goblets. The tasting was sponsored by the Riedel Company of Austria, a family-owned business that's been making stemware since 1756 and really takes the term "proper glass" seriously. In fact, the company has developed more than 100 shapes and styles of wine glasses, each matched to a specific grape or wine.

And we do mean specific. At the tasting, we were supplied with a syrah/shiraz glass, a brunello/sangiovese glass, one designed for chianti/zinfandel and one designed for port.

We tasted Flora Springs Sangiovese, Ravenswood Amador Zinfandel, Yalumba Barossa Shiraz and Graham's Six Grapes Port in each and every one of these goblets, as well as from a standard tasting glass used by judges in competitions.

The same wine tasted different just about every time.

In one case, more alcohol was noticeable; in another more pepper flavor. And the aroma changed with every pour.

The Riedel company says that's because each varietal glass has a cut and polished lip as opposed to a raised lip, and is designed to direct the flow of wine to the part of the tongue that can best appreciate its unique strengths. The tip of the tongue best detects sweetness, for instance. The middle back detects acid. (Think of a watering can, the kind with a long skinny spout that sends the liquid directly to the part of the plant that needs it most.)

Of course, there's also this to consider: if you took this idea far enough and liked many different kinds of wine, you'd need a bloody fortune to buy all that stemware. Not to mention storage room.

Even Lynn George, the upstate representative for Riedel, believes that could be a stumbling block. Her suggestion? Buy a set of goblets for red wine and a set for white wine. (The whites would have a smaller bowl and a narrower opening to concentrate the flavor and aroma. The reds would have a larger bowl so more surface is exposed to air to help develop its flavor.)

It's a thought.

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