“Here’s how to smell wine the real way,” says Maximillian Riedel, languidly spinning an elegant wine glass so the strawcoloured liquid dances up to the rim, and drawing two deep breaths, his eyes shut, from the belly of the bulb.
This little interplay between glass and grape is the defining ritual of Maximillian’s life work — as the 11th generation scion of the great glassmaking dynasty, the designer is more responsible for the way we drink wine today than perhaps any other man on the planet.
It is both a personal crusade and a scientific process. After all, as Maximillian reminds me, your wine is really only as good as the glass you pour it into.
On changing perceptions...
“When I first meet people, I tell them: ladies and gentlemen, I am about to complicate your lives. Once you have tasted wine this way you will never wanted to taste it any other way again.”
“I want to show people to never use a champagne coupe in their life. It simply destroys every beverage that goes in it. The coupe is based on a martini coupe, and a martini is always gin or vodka, so there is not much parfum or smell, just texture. It looks good, but it doesn’t work at all.”
On reimagining the champagne flute...
“I’ve been dreaming about making the perfect Champagne glass since my first ever internship at Taittinger when I was 18. People were drinking Champagne there from wine glasses rather than flutes. But no one dared to bring forward the idea of making a wine glass the de facto champagne glass.
With Champagne it’s very tricky to find the perfect glass. It’s so very special, Every cuvée is different, and most of them are blends of different vintages and different parcels. It’s all about blending — about experience, knowledge, alchemy.”
“The legacy is huge. My grandfather invented the egg-shaped glass in 1958, and if you look around you in every restaurant you go to you’ll only see egg-shaped wine glasses.”
On doing his research...
“On day one of designing a new glass, I would literally just drink the whole day. I’d try different vintages, and drink the wine many times. Of course, I use a spitoon -— the last thing I can be in this job is drunk!
It’s like fine tuning a guitar. If I want to hear a certain pitch, I will alter it a certain way. We can tune it to that degree. Half a millimetre can affect the taste and the aroma.
There is a formula for this, but it is not computer science. The formula is in my head, and it was in the head of my father.”
“I don’t have to like the wine to make a glass for it. If I speak to the region, I ask them what they see in their wine, what they want to promote in their wine — minerality, complexity, fruit, acidity, certain aromas. Then you have to taste the wine alone, by yourself.”
On looking to the future...
“My biggest goal is to pass on the business to the next generation. Fortunately, the next generation has been born, so that’s step one. But if they qualify? Only time will tell. If they don’t want to go into the business I will have failed, and been the first person in 11 generations not to pass on the baton.”
“I take glasses with me everywhere I go. My father started it. We have a custom made case, which he used to take to every restaurant and pull out, and tell them to change their glasses. It was such a pain for my sister and I, but now I understand it.”
“My personal motto comes from my grandfather and my father. “Don’t be the last to carry the baton.'”
Read the full story in the Sept/Oct issue of Gentleman’s Journal. Subscribe here…