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It's Crystal Clear 

by CHRISTINA KELLY & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & or years, I used to think that "special" glassware for different wines was a bunch of hooey, designed for wine snoots gullible enough to spend anywhere from $20 to nearly $100 per glass. To make matters worse, the glasses were delicate, and for those of us who can be less-than-delicate in the kitchen, breakage was costly.

You know how it happens -- people are clearing the dinner table and stack everything next to the sink and all of a sudden, you hear a slight fracture, a dull clink, like a tiny crack in the ice. And there it sits, that beautiful, expensive crystal wine glass with the crack that renders it garbage.

The other thing I always disliked was how people hovered over the glasses to protect them, and would take in big gulps of air if you accidently tapped the glass against a dinner plate. I have heard people screech, "Don't touch that glass!" to children who just stand next to the dinner table.

But my resistance withered when I challenged a representative of the Riedel Company, probably the most well-known maker of engineered wine glasses in the world, to prove its claims that the glass shape and size does indeed make a difference. This was a number of years ago and I will protect the poor guy's identity, since I had him stuttering by the end of the day. But the bottom line is he proved his point, using science, not fluff, to convince me that not only does size matter, but the design of the glass delivers wine to certain parts of the tongue and truly increases the tasting experience, even for the novice.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & K & lt;/span & eep in mind that most glassware is simply a vessel to deliver a beverage without much regard to where the beverage hits the tongue. The tongue has many papillae, or taste buds. Certain sections of your tongue hold the buds that taste sweet, bitter, spicy, salty and so forth.

The Riedel rep -- we'll call him Robert -- explained to me that engineers now design wine glasses so that the liquid hits certain areas of the tongue, to get the most out of the tasting experience. Rather than an advertising gimmick, the stemware is more of a precision instrument, developed to highlight the unique characteristics of a particular varietal of wine.

"Yeah, right," I responded, sarcastically, eyeballing the crystal glasses. But doubt was beginning to creep in, as I wondered why engineers would take the time and expense if there wasn't something to it.

I admit that expensive glassware looks nicer and feels richer in the hands -- it is a pleasurable tactile experience at the very least. But would it really make a difference in the taste?

Robert started with chardonnay, Riesling, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, Burgundy (pinot noir) and syrah/shiraz -- six Riedel crystal glasses, along with six average wine glasses you might find at a department store. Some of the average wine glasses were very pretty -- heavy crystal, etched and plain. The most obvious difference in just one glance was the amount of room in the Riedel glasses to really stick your nose in, and room to swirl the wine without splashing it everywhere. More importantly, the bigger wine surface area exposed the liquid to air -- necessary to allow the wine's tightness from the bottle to expand with air exposure.

Wine enthusiasts are led by color, bouquet and taste, and glassware can be designed to heighten each experience. Throughout the experiment, Robert pointed out the bowl, stem, rim and base of each glass, explaining the science of each. For each varietal, I tasted one sample in a Riedel glass and one in a regular glass. Despite all my efforts to be a disbeliever, drilling Robert with multiple questions, trying to catch him in an exaggeration, I finally had to concede that he was absolutely right. In a regular wine glass the chardonnay was nice with many flavors revealed. But the same wine in a Riedel chardonnay glass was like the difference between watching regular television and HDTV -- much more defined and heightened.

"Taste is where you will find a dramatic difference in glassware," Robert told me. "Every wine has its own unique blend of qualities, and by studying those qualities, a good wine glass can deliver the wine to the palate to fully express its personality."

Indeed, I even re-poured some of the wine myself, thinking he might have switched them -- there was that much of a difference.

I tried this same experiment at home with a panel of friends ranging from novice to highly experienced, and the result was the same -- even the beginners could tell the difference.

& lt;span class= "dropcap " & R & lt;/span & iedel now makes more than 100 types of glasses for wine, and other glassmakers including Spiegelau, Schott Zwiesel (their Tritan line is break-resistant) and Peugeot (Les Impitoyables No. 1) market wine glasses engineered for specific types of wines. So start simple: Pick a couple of basic glasses for red wine (maybe a Bordeaux and Burgundy) and smaller stemware for white wines -- chardonnay and sauvignon blanc or Riesling. I would also consider adding a nice Champagne flute for sparkling wines.

The bottom line is you can drink wine from a paper cup -- and I have -- but if you really want to add aesthetics and a mouth full of flavor, consider spending a little more money for a few special wine glasses.

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