Steve McGraw, Managing Director of Riedel Glass UK, on the Development of Glasses and Decanters
“A glass should be to wine as a stereo speaker is to music – it should present every subtle element and nuance, every detail, in the best way possible. We essentially make tools which enable enjoyment.”Steve McGraw, Managing Director of Riedel UK
When researching the post about whisky I discovered that the Austrian company, Riedel, had put effort and resources into the development of a glass shape specifically developed to enhance the experience of savouring the spirit. I remembered from my days as a hotelier that many respected sommeliers specified Riedel glass. So I decided to find out a bit more.
Steve McGraw, worked for Waterford Wedgwood, Spode and Royal Doulton before moving to Riedel UK to become Managing Director. He kindly replied to my questions, with comprehensive and, at times, unexpected answers:
On product development
SD: You’ve worked in the ceramics and glass industry for a long time, what have you learnt about the industry itself and, in particular about product development since you’ve been working at Riedel?
SM: I’ve learnt that design works at it very best when it is functional and adds value to the experience of using the item. And, that by working with and consulting experts in their field, a better product normally results.
On developing a whisky glass
SD: I was very interested to see that Riedel had developed a glass for tasting whisky. How does the very particular design of that glass aid the ability to savour whisky? How was the design developed?
SM: Like all of our glasses, the single malt whiskey glass was designed together with experts. This came about when Campbell Distillers asked us to come up with a glass that would highlight the very special characteristics of Single Malt Whisky.
And so, in 1992 at Riedel’s headquarters in Austria, we welcomed a panel of single malt experts to test a range of different glasses. And, with the help of master distillers in Scotland, the Single Malt Whisky glass resulted. With an elongated thistle shape on a truncated stem, the design incorporates a small, slightly out-turned lip which directs the spirit to where we perceive sweetness, helping bring out the elegant creaminess of good single malt.
On the traditional Martini glass…..try another shape!
SD: What about cocktails – the martini glass is a very particular (and rather difficult to handle) shape – is it how it is just by tradition, or is there a reason for this shape?
SM: The Martini glass is a traditional shape, which we must have in our range for commercial reasons. But it isn’t a shape we specifically developed ourselves and we would suggest experimenting with your cocktails in different glass shapes – you might just be surprised by the results!
The science behind developing glassware
SD: What is the science behind the development of glasses for different wines? Why do different wines require different glasses?
SM:When we design a glass, it always involves a sensory workshop with the aim of presenting the beverage to our senses – smell, taste, touch, and sight – in a way which enhances the experience. A glass should be to wine as a speaker is to music – it should present every subtle element and nuance, every detail, in the best way possible. We essentially make tools which enable enjoyment.
Input from wine producers and sommeliers
SD: How do you work with the wine industry to develop wine glasses?
SM: We regularly work with groups of wine makers either to develop glasses for a new grape variety or even to fine tune or re-confirm our existing shapes. We are in touch with those in the wine world on a daily basis.
The ideal shape for wine glasses
SD: Which is the ideal all round shape for red and for white wine and why?
SM: We make glasses which are grape varietal specific. Meaning that, in our philosophy, there is not one size which fits all which can present every wine at its best. However, this does not mean that you need to purchase dozens of different shapes. Simply think about the wine styles you enjoy and drink the most and buy specific glasses for those wines. For the wines which you don’t buy or drink so often, you can choose to compromise.
What are the advantages of decanting and how should it be done?
SD: Are people decanting wine more now – what are the advantages of decanting and how should it be done?
SM: Decanting has, quite rightly, become more popular.
In the past, people would think mainly about decanting old wines to remove the sediment. But now, there is an understanding that decanting younger wines has the most dramatic effect.
Decanting reduces the amount of carbon dioxide and aerates the wine, allowing the bouquet to develop faster. On the palate, decanted wine expresses higher levels of fruit in red wines and tends to integrate and smooth out tannins.
Current trends in the hospitality industry
SD: What are the trends and demands of the catering industry?
SM: There have been a number of recent trends. Wine by the glass is bigger that ever, due to devices which enable opened bottles to be preserved at a high quality level for days and even weeks. Here the glass is important.
Craft beer has also been a major trend in recent times and, with our Spiegelau brand, we were the first major company to work closely with brewers to develop specific glasses.
Now, the return of the cocktail is here and, again, with our Spiegelau brand, we have worked with top German mixologist Stephan Hinz to develop the perfect range of cocktail glasses for professional and home use.
In all cases, the glasses which we sell into the catering sector, have to be not only the highest quality – but also durable, dishwasher safe etc and all of our lines go through strict technical testing in this respect.
SD: How does fashion in glassware vary across Europe? Is the UK a very distinct market?
SM: Fashion is not something we spend too much time thinking about. Our sights are firmly fixed on the functionality of a glass. And, if the glass delivery the right experience for a given wine in London, then it will also deliver the same experience in Paris, Rome and Berlin.
Steve’s favourite piece
SD: Do you have a favourite piece of Riedel glass?
SM: It’s the one I am drinking from right now! This might be a different one from the one I’ll be drinking from in 30 minutes time. But to be serious, the glass is a tool and, for me, its about having the right tool for the job, rather than having a favourite.
Demand for different types of glassware?
SD: How do you see customer requirements developing in the future?
SM: The interest, at a sensory level, in non-alcoholic beverages is certainly on the increase. Think teas and coffees in particular. There are always opportunities and it’s is an exciting time to be a glassmaker!