In Wine Geek’s decades of experience with this subject, he has seen the entire gamut: from restaurateurs that used only expensive crystal (albeit not always wine-friendly) to those that would refuse to pay more than $1 a glass (which were so thick & heavy, one could hammer nails with them). Then in the eighties, a sea change took place…or at least commenced: Riedel Crystal arrived on the scene, and it changed how people drink wine forever.
Though Riedel has been in business for 260 years (CEO Maximillian Riedel is the 11th generation), it wasn’t until the 50’s that Claus Riedel (9th generation) decided to explore glass shapes, sizes, rim diameters and their effect on the wine within them. After many years of experimentation and refinement (as well as numerous design awards), Riedel released the first ‘Gourmet Wine Glass’ Collection to the world in 1973: Riedel Sommeliers. The glasses were game-changing, and among their immediate proponents were the likes of Angelo Gaja, Robert Mondavi, & Robert Parker to name a few. In the 80’s, Riedel set up their subsidiary here in the US, and the rest is becoming history.
Of course, Wine Geek has always used ‘proper’ stemware (he’s a wine expert after all), but it turns out that the ‘proper’ glass for a Burgundy does not fare so well when used to serve a Bordeaux. It’s absolutely amazing to see someone taste the same wine in two different glasses and watch their expressions; at first they think it’s a trick, but they realize that they poured the wine into these glasses themselves. And then the slow realization that there really is something magical about these glasses. Having now sat thru several ‘varietal specific’ glassware tastings—and having been gob-smacked by the results every time—Geek has become not only a devotee, but a downright acolyte for the ‘proper stemware’ movement.
And there is a movement. People actually get emotional about wine glasses. And we don’t mean just those good folks out there that are regular wine consumers: we are talking about restaurateurs (yes, you, our customers). For some it’s the aesthetics: all good restaurants want their tabletops to look beautiful and inviting, so some pick a glass simply because of its design. Some are concerned about serving size and how it looks in the glass when presented to their guests; most folks acknowledge that a bigger bowl allows more enjoyment of a wines aromatics, but if the bowl is too big, even 6 ounces in the glass looks like a meager serving. And yes, there are also those that read right to left, as in “what’s your cheapest wine glass”. These are typically the same people that will ask “these don’t break easily do they?”. Of course, these are legitimate concerns—the restaurant business is a business of pennies—but we feel that buying cheap glasses is not necessarily a sound business decision; paying more $ can actually make you more $.
The principle noted above is based on a couple of things. First, the obvious: wines really, really, really do taste better when served in proper glasses, be it ‘wine friendly’ all-purpose glasses to the mind-blowing, varietal-specific glasses. Even bad wine tastes better in good glasses. So your guests leave your restaurant with a higher level of overall satisfaction; like having fresh flowers on the table, or having snappily dressed servers…it’s another thing that makes the whole experience better. Secondly—and perhaps more importantly—there is a much greater likelihood that your guests will have a second (or third) glass of a wine they really enjoy. And to extrapolate this, let’s pretend that because your new wine glasses make the wine taste so much better that 20% of your guests order an additional glass of wine. In your small restaurant, this means selling an additional 200 glasses of wine in a month. If your average glass price is $10, and you are a good operator, your beverage cost is 25-30%. This means you’d make an additional $1400 to $1500 in profit a month…all because you chose the proper stemware!
Last but not least, we have seen lots of restaurants that boast that they use only Fortune Fish, or only USDA Prime meats, or buy most produce from within 25 miles of their restaurants. These are quality statements, and the restaurants are right to point such things out—people do take notice. And what in the world makes a better quality statement about your wine program (besides the wines themselves) than Riedel glassware?
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Great Lakes Wine & Spirits is the Exclusive Distributor of Riedel to Michigan’s Restaurants