Exhuming and Dismissing the Rolled Rim “Problem”

It’s the size of the glass that matters

Does a beaded rim on a glass really screw up the way a wine tastes? Such is modern stemware orthodoxy. I think the size of the bowl, for developing aroma, is far more important. Here’s why.

Being a modern wine marketer who completely identifies with and understands the Millennials (ahem), I run a few ads on the Facebook. One ad has a picture of a wine glass with a beaded rim, and exhorts the potential customer to “Enjoy your pinot noir even more with our newsletter . . . “.  One sharp fellow wrote the comment, “I will, but it certainly won’t be from a glass with a rolled rim, as pictured.”

Aghast at my misstep, I checked – yes, the damn glass in the stock photo had a rolled or beaded rim. It was NOT the perfect wine glass. I could see George Riedel looking down at me with scorn. At his famous stemware seminars where he promotes his admittedly awesome glasses with the perfect shape, all the rims are flat. Why? “”The rim, that rolled edge at the top of the glass, creates turbulence as the wine enters the mouth and spreads the wine across the entire tongue rather than directing it to specific taste areas. Run your fingers around the rim or your wine glass, if it is rolled or you can feel or see a rim, it is not a good glass for wine, regardless of what you paid for it.”  This is a comment from a fellow recently indoctrinated by Mr. Riedel.

“Who gives a rat’s ***  if there’s a beaded rim?” was my next thought. Consider:

1) I’ll drink wine from almost any handy vessel if needed. Coffee cups, Miss Piggy souvenir glasses from McDonalds, even straight from the bottle, a la Miles. I can agitate and aerate the wine in my mouth and get excellent results – and often have. Don’t you do the same?

2) Recent science has shown that all parts of the palate have all the taste buds to taste all the flavors, kind of putting to shame the idea that certain flavors only impact certain parts of the palate – and by corollary, that a wine glass must direct the wine towards specific taste buds (as if the wine does not shortly end up EVERYWHERE in the mouth and sometimes up the nose).
“It turns out that the beloved tongue map many of us learned in school – which shows bitter tastes are detected in the back of the tongue while sweet tastes are detected at the tip – has no scientific basis. That’s the word from Dr. Steven Munger, associate director of the Center for Smell and Taste at the University of Florida.” (Full Huffpost article http://goo.gl/tHTDdg, but even a cursory Google search turns up much more.)

3) Many generations of highly expert winetasters managed to get by tasting wine from all kinds of glasses and they did just fine. Are we to dismiss the accumulated works of the Titans of Winetasting because they didn’t always use a flat-rim glass until the mid-1990s?
All that said, a large, quality glass makes a huge difference in the flavor of the wine, with “large” being the key factor. A large bowl allows for development of a big aroma by providing a large evaporative surface area when you swirl the wine. When the wine smells better, it tastes better. Good, big glasses enhance the aroma. When I taste seriously, I inhale the aroma through both my mouth and nose, and after swallowing / spitting, exhale through my mouth and nose, all to keep my smell sense organ saturated with the wine aromas. That’s how a large-bowled wine glass can help a wine taste better. The rim of the glass doesn’t do squat. (Caution: this technique can also make a bad wine smell and taste even worse.)

My final conclusion: The rim on the glass is of little importance. The size of the bowl and how you engage your sense of smell is a much more important part of enhancing your wine experience.


Copyright Robert Wolfe, short passages may be reprinted with author permission and attribution.

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