Keeping it curvy
“The focus on drinking vessels that, say, the Vikings had, when they were treasured, is long gone,” says a disappointed Maximilian Riedel. “Most people care more about what’s under the table – the Louboutin shoes or the Chanel handbag – than what’s on it. And yet our sales suggest there are enough people with a different mindset – who want to make educated choices, who want to buy things that offer experience rather than status.”
Maximilian might be said to be in the experience business. Following an idea his grandfather introduced and his father developed, Maximilian says that he doesn’t pay much attention to what his wine glasses look like. That is a solely a product of their function: to use the glass’s shape and thickness to maximise aroma and deliver liquid to the most active part of the palette.
Maximilian says he has tried to get scientific institutions to conduct double blind, independent tests of the claims – and has yet to find one interested – but the proof is in the drinking. “You have to try the same wine from different glasses to really appreciate it. But it works. We run countless focus groups to demonstrate it – that’s the only way to get people to understand.”
More grape varietal-specific glasses are in the pipeline. Many such Riedel glasses are developed on a custom basis at the behest of a group of winemakers from a specific region, keen to get their products more on the bon viveur map. But the company is not focused on wine glasses alone. More recently this 11th-generation Austrian family firm – it was established 260 years ago this year – has pushed into applying the same philosophy to other drinks.
It has created coffee cups, developed with Nespresso, with one for more intense and another for milder coffees; a glass from which to better enjoy Coca-Cola, developed at the invitation of the beverage giant; and Riedel’s Spiegelau sister brand has created a series of three glasses for craft beers.
“Wine is very personal. Not everyone likes the same thing. So tackling other drinks is an opportunity to bring the brand to the attention of new customers.”
Indeed, if Maximilian bemoans the general lack of interest in what we drink out of, he also recognises his benefitting from a small if growing attitude of connoisseurship to what we drink. In the US and UK, for example, beer has recently seen its first increase in market share in 20 years, with a concomitant boom in the launch of independent micro breweries. And distilleries too. Certainly it speaks volumes that Riedel has also this spring been able to add a spirits and a beer glass to its top-end Veritas line. Outsized and taller, these machine-blown crystal glasses are also noticeably thinner. This too follows trends, both in the industry and in society at large. Maximilian notes how a generation ago the expectation was for a wine glass to have a certain weight, but that now demand was shifting towards airier, lighter products. “These glasses are harder to make but they’re not more fragile because the surface tension that holds it all together is still there. Besides, the kind of people who identify with such products tend to pay attention to how they are made and know how to look after them.”
But such people, he adds, are also more concerned about what they put in their glass.
Indeed, for all that Maximilian stresses that his is an intensely competitive industry, they are also tapping into leading-edge attitudes to consumption. “Look at the whole farm-to-table mindset in food,” says Maximilian. “That thinking, which some consumers have, is now being seen in drinks too, as it has been in growing interest in the provenance of the things we buy more generally. We’re looking more into the products we buy, and looking more to products that maximise the enjoyment of whatever we enjoy. In fact, I think the same philosophy of using the right instrument to get as much as possible out of a beverage could even be applied to water. And if it can work for that it can work for any drink.”