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Inside design: Maximilian Riedel

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Design Experts

Inside design: Maximilian Riedel

Ask any oenophile and they'll tell you the name Riedel (which is pronounced "ree'dl") is synonymous with top-of-the-line wineglasses. Maximilian Riedel, CEO of Riedel Crystal of North America, is the 11th generation of Austrian wineglass makers in this family business, which has been in operation since 1756. We asked Maximilian to help us better understand the marriage of good wine and great glassware.

S@H It seems that wine was once the purview of the elite, but in the past few decades it has become popular with more people. Do you agree?
MR
Absolutely. There's no other beverage that goes as well with food as wine. It also brings people together, inspiring conversation and the chance to share. And since we don't open a bottle and bring it to our lips (as we might beer), the vessel that wine is poured into becomes very important.

S@H Speaking of vessels, the stemless glass has become wildly trendy. Do you think your grandfather is rolling over in his grave?
MR
I created the first stemless tumbler in 2004. I wanted something convenient, that could be stacked, put in the dishwasher, and used at the cottage for orange juice or mojitos. It was a major success; I know that, because of the impressive sales numbers and because there are tons of copies. My family's relationship with wine began with my grandfather, who created a Pinot Noir glass in the '50s that's now in the Museum of Modern Art as an example of beautiful stemware. I introduced my stemless line to him just before he died. At first he said, "What? You cut the stem off my beautiful glass?" But then I explained the practicality of the tumbler -- you know, 80 per cent of wineglasses are broken at the stem -- and he understood its purpose.

S@H We know wine purists who claim that because you hold the stemless glass around the bowl, the wine is warmed unfavourably. Is that a drawback?
MR
People think that's the case, but it's not a fact. The stem was created mainly for aesthetic reasons -- to keep fingerprints off the bowl -- and for women with smaller hands. I'd argue that it's important not to overfill a wineglass -- don't pour more than three or four ounces in one. If you do that, warming won't happen. Also, many whites are served too cool, so even if the wine does rise in temperature, that will only bring out its great depth and character.S@H Your family has championed specific bowl shapes for specific wines. Is that as relevant now as it was when you first introduced the concept five decades ago?
MR
Riedel's focus has always been on quality and on creating new designs in crystal. The shape of the bowl influences the aroma, depth and dimensionality of the wine. I call the winemaker the musician and the bowl the loudspeaker. But, of course, wines do change (the alcohol levels, and the features of the grape), so we're constantly checking our wineglasses to make sure they're as well matched now as they were when we first made them -- something I don't think a lot of people know. We're also developing new bowl shapes. We just came up with one specifically for the Oregon Pinot Noir. That sounds weird, I know, since we already have more than one great Pinot Noir glass. But the winemakers of Oregon insist their Pinot Noir is different from others. My father, Georg Riedel, conducted panel tastings within the industry before we developed prototypes. Each participating winery voted on which served the wine best, and by process of elimination, we settled on a glass for Oregon Pinot Noirs.

S@H Don't tell us that's the next big thing! Do we now need to have a set of glasses for each grape and each region?
MR
We hope not! We'd never keep up; there are just too many regions. The next big thing for us is private labelling. Wineries come to us for custom-made glasses. For wine lovers, that means that when you buy a case of your favourite wine, you can also buy the glasses created specially for it. We're also debuting a new decanter, and creating giftware sets for the holidays.

S@H For those of us who don't have the money or space for multiple sets of glasses, is there one glass (or two) that's best for serving a variety of wines?
MR
No, because a glass is crafted to amplify the traits of a specific grape. But if you can't afford a range of glasses, I suggest you start building a collection by asking yourself what your preferred grape is. Then, ask your spouse what his or her favourite is, and buy the appropriate glasses.
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Inside design: Maximilian Riedel