illuminating life

There’s an article in yesterday’s New York Times that tells us we’re using an incorrectly shaped glass from which to drink wine.

The theory is that the design of the wineglass — from the shape of the bowl and degree of tapering at the rim, to the design of the rim itself — can affect the way someone experiences the aroma, taste and harmony of a wine. The nuances of a complex red wine, for example, might unfold and beguile in the appropriate glass, but turn harsh and closed in another.

The article goes on to extol the benefits of buying $95 stemware and describes the frightful effect of drinking wine from the wrong glass:

“We started with a typically full-flavored California chardonnay, from Kendall Jackson. In Riedel’s Vinum Chardonnay glass, notes of tropical fruit wafted up and expanded lusciously in the mouth. We transferred the wine into the Vinum Sauvignon Blanc glass, where it seemed to lose depth. Creamy oak and vanilla overpowered the other flavors. It also seemed unpleasantly tannic. Finally, we poured the chardonnay into a “joker” glass — those miserly little wineglasses that you can barely fit your nose into. In this glass, alcohol burned on the nose, and the tropical fruit disappeared.”

This all sounds crazy, right?

I drink red wine. Probably the best glass of wine I ever had was a chianti (Peppoli 2000) at a Roman restaurant, San Teodoro, in May of 2004. Probably the beautiful restaurant, the view on the Forum and simply the fact that Bubelah and I were in Rome had something to do with my pleasant memory of the evening, the meal and most particularly the wine. My recollection of the day includes spending the morning, a clear spring day, in Hadrian’s Villa and then a long evening after dinner walking through a rose exhibit near the Circo Massimo and enjoying some campari in a café while listening to jazz.

At home, I usually use a small tumbler for my wine, and I seldom get out the wine glasses. I enjoy inexpensive Spanish and Australian wines, and maybe an occasional Italian wine. My fallback brand is Yellowtail, although I also like Rosemount Estate. I am not terribly picky, though. I drink Yellowtail because to me it is consistently the best bottle of wine under $20. It’s not harsh, and I actually quite like their Shiraz and Shiraz-Grenache blends, but it’s certainly not inspiring any soaring comparisons to tropical fruit or creamy oak – whatever a creamy oak might be.

I guess my point is that – at least for an unsophisticated wine drinker – the atmosphere surrounding the Peppoli at San Teodoro made the wine fantastic rather than any magical combination of earthy vanilla tones. I doubt the Peppoli was a particularly impressive wine, strictly speaking. I suspect if I drank it sitting at home while eating a plate of leftovers it would not have made such an impression on me. So the surroundings, which might include a fancier glass than normal, probably made the difference in taste and perception. The goal for all of us, then, has to be to create the atmosphere and environment in our lives around us to make the mundane seem transcendant.

Trying to create an atmosphere of beauty in your daily dining – or any part of your life – can have more of an impact sometimes than actually upgrading the things in your life. Imagine, for example, these two scenarios:

  1. Fresh slices of tomato, slices of buffalo mozzarella, olives, bread and olive oil. Glass of red wine, candles, tea after dinner and music – classical, jazz, or whatever works for you.
  2. An expensive filet mignon steak, carmelized onions, butter, rolls, a side of creamed spinach, a glass of expensive red wine with brandy after dinner – eaten on a TV tray while watching the last 15 minutes of Wheel of Fortune.

The first dinner would be substantially cheaper and some would say less satisfying than the second. However, the atmosphere it is delivered in would make it infinitely more satisfying to me. Coming full circle back to the question of drinking wine from $100 glasses, I can say with some certainty that I am sure that if I knew they were $100 glasses, I would enjoy it more. I would probably savor the wine, remember the moment, talk about it, and enjoy it. If I drank the same wine out of a paper cup, it would still taste the same, but some of the beauty of the moment would be lost.

I am not recommending anyone rush out and buy $100 glasses, but I would recommend that you take a few minutes when eating (or doing anything, really) to consider how you will undertake your meal. Will it be rushed, on paper plates and with a TV blaring? Or will it be in a calm, pleasant atmosphere? Making your dining more pleasant can transform the mundane into the excellent, just as drinking a wine – according to the New York Times – can be changed from “burning” to “luscious” by using the right glass. Just make sure someone else buys the $100 glasses!