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Behind Fine Wine | Riedel’s Stewart Risto and Warren Porter Discuss Wine Stemware and Decanters

Behind Fine Wine | Riedel's Stewart Risto and Warren Porter Discuss Wine Stemware and Decanters

In this episode of Behind Fine Wine Warren Porter of IronGate.Wine sits down with Stewart Risto from Riedel over a bottle of 2010 Cos d’Estournel decanted in Riedel ‘s collector edition Elton John Ayam decanter. Stewart and Warren discuss the importance of varietal specific stemware and the reasons for decanting wine. Stewart shared his knowledge on the background and history of Riedel and the various stemware collections available from Riedel online and in stores.

Interview Transcript

Warren: Good afternoon and welcome to another edition of Behind Fine Wine. I am extremely pleased to welcome my friend Stewart Risto from Riedel Canada. Thanks for coming Stewart.

Stewart: Thanks for having me here.

Warren: My pleasure, my pleasure and I’m also extremely happy to say that we are going to be drinking the wine today out of this amazing piece of art that Riedel recently came out with. This is one. This is an Elton John, Ayam is that how you pronounce it?

Stewart: Ayam, yes.

Warren: Ayam decanter I saw this I was in a cafe in South America and Maximilian Riedel posted that they had come out with this and Elton John has always been my absolute favourite and I instantly went, “Oh my God, how do I get one of those?” and Stewart came to my rescue and he said there’s only two coming into Canada and we’ve got one for you. So this is the first time that we’ve ever used it and we’re going to be drinking a 1970 Cos d’Estournel from that. And why 1970 wine you may ask? Because my favourite Elton John album, Elton John being my favourite artist, my favourite Elton John album is 17 -11- 70 and so I thought this would be a good one to have in Canada, comedians in cars getting coffee kind of way so.

Stewart: Loving the context

Warren: So we’re going to have this and so.

Stewart:Is it this way to pour?

Warren:Is it like that Okay Well, why don’t you do the honours because you know the

Stewart: Hold on here let me …

Warren: You’re the expert in this.

Stewart: If you listen to decanter you’re going to hear it cluck a little as it forces air through

Warren: Amazing.

Stewart: Now as you set it down, it has to reload.

Warren: Now we only pour this a couple of minutes ago. We’re going to talk a little bit about decanting here this afternoon but the…  we only poured this a couple of minutes ago because it’s such an old wine I don’t like to pour them too early. This one is certainly in the latter years of its life, I wouldn’t give it a lot more a lot more years but it was one that I really wanted to try.

Stewart: So I’m happy to try it with you…

Warren: So cheers.

Stewart: Cheers.

Warren: Thank you we’re drinking this out of obviously a Riedel Bordeaux. Would it just be a Riedel Bordeaux glass or is it just…

Stewart: Riedel Veritas Bordeaux glass.

Warren: Riedel Veritas Bordeaux cheers. And you know what that’s changed a bit even since the initial …

Stewart: Since the initial sample.

Warren: Yeah. When we taste it

Stewart: Wow, there’s still enough tannin in there. Wow

Warren: Yeah, when we started before to make sure that the wine was still good it was giving off a little bit of funk. You got a little bit of maderization on it

Stewart: Yeah

Warren: A little bit dusty and kind of, all blown off and that’s thanks to us drinking it out of this again amazing piece of art. So I cannot tell you how happy I am to have this. This is going to be one of my most prized possession so I’m going to…

Stewart: Just a little bit about that piece. Ayam decanter we have a series of Ayam decanters and the Ayam name comes from the world’s most expensive chicken from Indonesia because the-

Warren: Chicken?

Stewart: This decanter was done for the year of the rooster.

Warren: Oh I don’t know that okay.

Stewart: So, if you look at, you have the beak we just poured out of, you have the large body in the tail where I was holding it. So it’s a chicken shape. Ayam is an Indonesian chicken, it is all black, black skinned black beak, black meat, black blood.

Warren: Really?

Stewart: And they retail about $2500 or $3000 per bird.

Warren: Holy cow.

Stewart: But so that’s why the Maximilian was looking for a name for our year of the rooster decanter. He asked, “What’s the most expensive chicken?” to his assistant and she said it’s the Ayam and he said it’s a good name let’s use it.

Warren: That’s a great story, I didn’t know that. Now, this particular decanter I’ve mentioned that it’s one of only 75 in the world. This is to raise money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Stewart: Yes, we did a decanter last year with the Elton John AIDS Foundation and it was our double magnum which we put a rainbow onto for the foundation. We did fifty of those, they sold out in an instant. We did seventy-five of these only because fifty is our normal run for limited edition piece. We did seventy-five because it’s the 25th anniversary of the Elton John’s AIDs foundation this year. It’s also the reason we added the Silver Stripes on to the rainbow that’s on the back.

Warren: Gotcha

Stewart: And it’s all listed on that sheet about authenticity.

Warren:  Yeah, I put it away but it’s a beautiful. So by the way behind us this is another one of mine that I’ve always had out, this being the Eve.

Stewart: Yes

Warren: And what do you call the other one?

Stewart: This is the Swan

Warren: The Swan. I’m a I’m a huge fan of decanting. Everything white wine, red wine everything. If nothing else just for… I don’t want to say the ceremony of it but the… it really always add something to an evening if I’m, I mean think I’m pouring out of this bottle which is an interesting great bottle anyway but the minute that you out add an element like this, or like this, or like this. It now becomes special.

Stewart: Absolutely and that’s one of the three reasons we all tell people that we decant. If you ask Maximilian Riedel, George Riedel, his father who are the owner and president of the company at this point in time respectively, they will tell you that there’s three reasons to decant, with an older bottle of wine like this obviously we can see the sediment on the sides of this bottle. So we’re looking to separate the sediment from the wine with the young bottle of wine. We’re obviously going to want to help to age the wine and reduce the tannin as a touch but decanting and it refers to what you just said it looks cool.

Warren: Yeah

Stewart:  When you bring the wine to the table in a decanter and people don’t see the label they’re automatically assuming it’s a higher quality wine you may or may not be serving there’s no preconceived notion of what you’re getting, so quality comes at all price points.

Warren: So I could put a Blue Nun in the Eve.

Stewart:  You could, if you’re going to clean it possibly.

Warren: Oh yeah, that’s true I get a lot of stickiness. You know in fact it does look cool until I tried doing this for the first time and then when I couldn’t get any wine out it doesn’t look as cool. So there there’s an instructional D.V.D. that comes with pouring this one but once you get good at it, then it looks cool.

Stewart: Yeah, there’s a true ceremony to using the Eve and it’s the one that we use in all of our tastings because it will help us to quiet down somebody in the audience who may or may not think they know-

Warren: Yeah

Stewart: too much.

Warren: Yeah so George and Maximilian Riedel, let’s go to the name Riedel. Percentage of time, people say riddle as opposed to Rie-del and do you correct them or do we just bring it up in conversation?

Stewart:  We actually do correct them, it’s Rie-dle, remember Riedle like needle if you’re looking to speak about the brand. If your name is Sandy or Danny you can call it Ry-del, it’s the high school in the Grease movies.

Warren: Really

Stewart:  But that’s the only people that are allowed to, Sandy and Danny in leads in the Grease film so we figured, what the hell, we’ll let them do it. Other than that, no it’s Riedel like needle. Maximilian is the eleventh generation, he is the current C.E.O. and president of the company. George the tenth generation, is his dad, he is the owner of the business and Maximillian’s grandfather Klaus, is the one who started the varietal-specific glassware phase trend.

Warren: Okay.

Stewart: As it may be.

Warren: Yeah and when would that trend have happened like because… what were people doing up until then and when did that happen? And we’re going to talk about this a little bit because the reason the main…. Well one of the first times that you and I met was at a stemware tasting that was showing the difference in specific stemware, which if you get a chance to do it we’re going to tell you at the end of this how to do that, is so worth the effort I found it completely fascinating. But, so when would that have started a varietal specific tasting?

Stewart: The first was Klaus who we call the father varietal specific glassware came up with the concept forty- four years ago now. So it hasn’t been that long Riedel family’s been in business making glass of one variety or another crystal of one so or another whether it be windowpane sites for weaponry, glassware

Warren: Okay.

Stewart: And then you can imagine plates serving ware all of these things they’ve done these over the years since 1756

Warren: Wow.

Stewart: So we’re two hundred sixty what’s it? We’re 263 years now.

Warren: So and Stemware was only in the last how long?

Stewart: Well stemware, they’ve been making for the last hundred plus years but up until forty-three years ago it was all cut crystal.

Warren: Okay.

Stewart: It was all about having the function or the function secondary to the form. Okay where we’ve now reverse that taking the Bauhaus principle into effect and putting function first followed by form.

Warren: Okay

Stewart: So his goal at that point in time was, he was drinking really high-quality Bordeaux wine and Burgundy wine and enjoying the wine. So we just find that they were different every time we tried them and he complained about how the wine, there must be, you know these inconsistencies in the wine making it was crazy how these wine makers couldn’t make the wine consistent all the time. Until the wine maker told him, no actually our wine is perfectly consistent, here try these six bottles pick them at random pull the corks and try. And he took a bottle home after he tried them there and they were all the same. He got home, it was different went his neighbours house it was different. Tried to figure out what caused the differences the only thing that changed was the glassware. So he started to experiment and his goal was to create the perfect glass to Grand Cru Burgundy

Warren: Okay.

Stewart: And the first glass that was created is now, well a model of it is now on display on permanent display at the Museum of Modern Art New York.

Warren:  Really, wow that’s interesting?

Stewart: So Grand Cru Burgundy glass.

Warren: Very Cool.

Stewart: So it’s the first of these that was done and that was done 44 years ago to …at this point in time.

Warren: And so there’s a thing that I learned that I didn’t know, embarrassingly at the time, because that was maybe only ten years ago, how big the difference is in drinking out of particular glasses and I did that at Tawse Winery here in Niagara was the first tasting that I did and I think Maury Tawse  who owns that winery had said, the minute that he did it he stopped doing those sample servings at the wine retailer store because his wine, he’d realize now will not be showing in that so he’d rather just not do that at all and so it really, really taught me the difference in that deep. So do you find, I mean I’ve got way too much somewhere as a ratio to my amount of available cupboard space.

Stewart: There is s no such thing as too much.

Warren: Well that’s what I keep telling my wife. We just need more cupboards. But do you find that there is an initial push back to saying, “You guys in here, I mean come on”

Stewart: Absolutely yeah.

Warren: So what do you do with that do you just show it to them?

Stewart: It is the first question I ask everybody when we do a tasting as I did at the Tawse we were at and honestly if you go to the Tawse winery now and taste at their tasting bar, they taste out of varietal-specific glasses for their wines because they want it to taste at its best.

Warren: Okay

Stewart: And I asked people when we sit down to a tasting, who thinks that this is nothing but marketing?  Is this just BS?

Warren: Yeah

Stewart: And invariably there’s a few people in the room whose hand will come up and they’re the ones that go back to at the end of the tasting to follow up and say, “Do you still believe that?” Is it still the same situation today?”

The fact is of a glass that matter we have three glasses here this is our…

Warren: So, this is the from the Riedel Veritas?

Stewart: Yes, this is our Veritas red wine tasting sets, this is one of the sets we use for our tasting. We have the Cabernet or the Bordeaux glass that we’re drinking from right now we have our new World Pinot Noir glass and we have our Syrah glass, our Hermitage glass and really these are the three glasses that you would need to enjoy almost all red wine.

Warren: Well, I’m glad you mentioned that because it was one of the questions that I’d written down like if I only had three glasses to choose from, would it be those?

Stewart: For reds, these would be the three that I would put into the list.

Warren: And if you said that I wanted three just in general I mean your shards are you know white bottom bass followed by you know a more narrow opening top. And so you know if I were to pick three, which would it be it?

Stewart: It’s going to depend on the wine you drink the most.

Warren: Sure.

Stewart: And what you’re looking to do. If you don’t drink oak chardonnay, you don’t need a Montrachet glass.

Warren: Okay.

Stewart: If you don’t drink Bordeaux, well I don’t know why you wouldn’t, you don’t need the glass that we’re enjoying today.

Warren: Okay

Stewart: But it’s both the varietals. If you’re drinking the Italian varietals you’re going to drink out of the Syrah glass this is the most versatile of these three red wine glasses as far as the number of different wines that go into it.

Warren: Now is the app going to tell me that?

Stewart:  Yes if you go to the App Store and search for the Riedel wine glass guide, very coyly named.

Warren: I’ve used that a lot, I’ve really used that App a lot.

Stewart: I use it all the time myself. If I’ll walk into the liquor store and I want to buy a bottle of wine and I’m not sure what glass it should be in or whether I own the glass and I work for the company. So I will go to the app and I will find it and if I need to, I know what guys like and it’s a blast we’re going to the right way. When I shop for wine because I’m kind of prescribe to your philosophy of cellaring stuff. I go and buy, I’ll buy two bottles to drink today, two bottles to cellar something that I don’t know.

Warren: Yeah.

Stewart: So it gives me a chance to, that’s how I started my cellar and it’s grown fairly handsomely since. But I always want to know what it should be drunk in and I keep an old iPhone with the app on it in the cellar. So when my wife goes down put my glassware on this side, the wine’s on the side it allows her to bring the red glasses up at the same time.

Warren: Perfect.

Stewart:  If she’s grabbing wine and I’m not home because I do travel a fair bit for this job.

Warren: You know I use the app, I was buying a piece of Rimowa luggage and they had a place in where you can bring your stemware for guys who are you know-

Stewart: Nice

Warren: Well nice except and this is a very expensive piece of wine luggage except I looked at it I went that shape seems odd so I grab my iPhone and I went into the Riedel app and then I started to kind of flipping through it and because you’ve got all the dimensions of everything on it and I’m sitting there with a measuring tape going this won’t fit any single glass I would ever use and didn’t buy the luggage because of it because it didn’t fit and I learned it off the app.

Stewart: I’ll have to have our people talk to their people and see what’s going on.

Warren: Yeah, no it’s not a very good piece of luggage. So I was actually, before we get off…


Stewart: The glasses.

Warren: Yeah before we get off the glasses.  So carry on.

Stewart: If I had to pick three glasses and three glasses only, it’s kind of like picking your favourite children for me quite frankly, I would take and an unoaked white wine glass. So mine is Sauvignon Blanc glass because I can drink Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Garganega, all of the unoaked whites I can drink from it and that gives you a huge preponderance of the white wine population. I would take the Bordeaux glass because wines like this are too good to pour into the wrong glass and because I am a huge Pinot-phile I would take the Pinot Noir and this is a glass for Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo they’re only two grapes that go into that glass

Warren: Okay.

Stewart: But it’s still one of my three but there’s people that don’t make pinot and I would put these two and the reason why.

Warren: But your right, you start off with, I mean I know guys who, I don’t know how you to do this, but say I don’t drink white.  Okay, if then, if that’s the case and let’s start at least with the varietals that you take or I only drink Italian wine or you know whatever. So if you have that narrow band of what you drink then you start there and then you move your way down. But speaking of the wine that should go in a specific glass, what’s the deal with the champagne no longer in flute thing? Have you been asked about that later?

Stewart: Many times and if you ask Maximillian or George Riedel they will both tell you that the flute does nothing for the product.

Warren: Okay.

Stewart: We’re trying to improve how the wine lands on your palate, how close to your mouth your enjoyment of the product at the end of the day. With the flute you’re emphasizing the acidity and the effervescence in that bottle and that’s basically all you’re getting, you’re not getting the flavour. if you’re drinking a Rose Pinot Noir, not Rose Pinot Noir, a Rose Champagne. Most of it is 99% Pinot Noir. That’s the glass that we recommend you use for it. Look at what the product is made from put it into that glass.

Stewart: Okay.

Warren: If we have a champagne wine glass now which is our all-purpose champagne glass, it’s a wider version of the Sauvignon Blanc glass. I wish I had here to show you I don’t, unfortunately. But it does the job very well, it holds fourteen ounces, fifteen ounces.

Warren: And so, so you would take your Chardonnay glass for most Champagnes?

Stewart: I would take my Pinot glass for most champagnes.

Warren: Really, Okay.

Stewart: Because most of them are based in Pinot Noir so

Warren: But if you do the Blanc.

Stewart: The Blanc I put it into the oaked Chardonnay glass.

Warren: Okay, interesting

Stewart: Absolutely.

Warren: And sticking on that topic I haven’t seen these before, so tell me what these are that you brought.

Stewart: This is our…

Warren: This is very cool, I haven’t seen this one.

Stewart: This is called Performance and the new Performance here is we literally launched this year in July and look at the shape of the glass it is almost identical to what’s going on. There’s subtle changes so it’s a little bit deeper

Warren: It’s got a little bit more of a curvature look.

Stewart: A little bit more curvy to the top. These glasses, the first time that Maximilian and George have designed the set of glass were together and all of our glass were designed with the assistance of the wine makers. This is not the glass that Riedel went out and said this is the Pinot Noir glass. We do a tasting workshop where we will set glasses in front of wine makers, anywhere from 15 to 45 glasses for each event and the wine makers will go through, they will nose it, they will taste it, they will rate it and the glass that they say is served as their product the best, is the glass that we say is for that product. So we did a Rose workshop last year, we’ve done a Pinot Noir workshop, we’ve done a Central Otago Pinot Noir workshop. So we now have three different Pinot Noir styles.

We have a New World, an Old World and a Central Otago because pinot was so different everywhere it’s ground. And Prince Edward County Pinot glass as well.

Warren: Have you fascinated to understand cause the stemware has become like wine almost to you, the more you dig into the rabbit hole, the more you know you just learn the more you realize, you don’t know and I would be fascinated to understand the science  and mechanic or maybe the art  behind, because it’s the Central Otago Pinot, it  should imply the following characteristics and how they do that.


Stewart: The Central Otago pinot glass has a more diamond shape to it and a straight lip at the top as opposed to this recurve, Central Otago pinot is a little more acidic a little bit lighter on the  fruit side of things ,a little bit lighter on the tannin,  cooler climate development as opposed to  a Northern California Pinot Noir or a Burgundy where you’re getting that deep rich, earthy aroma , where we need something a little bit more closed in without this . This is the acid bump at the top as George Riedel would call it and if you want to talk about glass development, George Riedel is the guru.

Warren: Okay, Acid Bump is actually one of my favourite bands in the 70’s, yeah didn’t think it would come up in this podcast.

Stewart: Strangest thing as I may say, back to performance. What we’ve done with performance is they have, as I turn this glass, I’m hoping you can see that. You can see that it’s got a optical effect to it, and with this optical effect, we end up with a optical impact. That impact is that we have more surface area on the inside of the glass now which is allowing more of the aroma to come forward

Warren: Okay.

Stewart: and more of the flavour to come through in the wine as a result.

Warren: Does it not impact though when because one of the first things I’m doing with that with the wine of that age is I’m looking at the brick and I’m trying to you know to understand what it is at the rim, which is why I go crazy when you know people serve out of wines that have anything but just pure perfect crystal on the outside. So how does this impact it?

Stewart: It doesn’t affect your view at all, you can still see or view this the exact same way if you read through the glass as soon as you turn it you end up with that visible We actually took the optical impact down significantly from where it was with the first test glasses.

Warren: Okay.

Stewart: First of all, it was dizzying to look at and second it was an over, over decorative. It wasn’t functioning.

Warren: Right.

Stewart: Anymore.  It was almost to the decorative point.

Warren: Okay.

Stewart: So we scaled it back to a point where it does its job without impeding the enjoyment of the glass and of the product that’s in there, it’s not taking away from your enjoyment of it.

Warren: Cool

Stewart: But this is the first range that George and Maximillian designed together as I said and when they created this glassware our Riesling glass now is completely different , the Pinot you can see has a different base to it,  a little bit wider top and subtle changes from the other things but performance, because it is high performance we have taken this which we thought was ourpièce de résistance and refined it.

Warren: So I’m not going to keep you for long but there’s three things I really want to find out.  First off … again, I find the whole thing fascinating. If someone is in Austria like going to a winery are they able to go to Riedel and learn about it?

Stewart: Absolutely. Riedel, we have the, our corporate offices and our headquarters where we create our handmade glass is in Kufstein, Austria, it is open for tourism open all the time.

Warren: And where is that in relation to like where would you land?

Stewart: Landing. Easiest place to land is in Munich you’re proximately an hour and fifteen minutes straight so the Munich on of the Autobahn. If you’re going to Kitzbuhel to ski you’re going to drive through Kufstein. If you’re going from Munich to Innsbruck you’re going to drive through Kufstein, it’s just it’s kind of it’s literally right across the in river from Germany.

Warren: Okay

Stewart: Beautiful community and the signs to find the glass works are easy to find.

Warren: The other thing I wanted to find out I mean this is retail and retail is… Nobody is in retail in any way shape or form without being impacted by Amazon. So were most people buying your product, how are your retailers affected by it and do you move because of the specificity of it , do you  move most of your product through very hands on retailers or are you finding that people are doing a lot of business through Amazon it or doesn’t affect it at all?

Stewart: We do a lot of business through Amazon, we do a lot of business through specialty retail, we do a lot of business through mass market retailers as well. So if you’re hearing Canada HBC.

Warren: Oh okay.

Stewart: They use our product and they are carrying the middle two upper tiers. if you go into Winners in Canada or in Target in the US, you’re getting our entry price products.

Warren: Okay.

Stewart: There are eleven steps on the Riedel ladder, so there are almost a twelve-step program.

Warren: Okay.

Stewart: Which is kind of strange for the way it works but I always think it’s funny. I think our performance is twelve.

Warren: Sometimes Actually every time I do it, I’ll leave it at eleven. So that’s fine.

Stewart: Cant complete it anyway. So we have we have a glassware for all as we’d like to say.  We start out with our glasses in Canada at $15 a stem and we go all the way up to $150 a stem.

Warren: You know what here is the thing I mean if you are drinking wines of this calibre or other calibres. I mean this is not necessarily your everyday glass but if it’s special enough that you’re opening up a wine of that type, it deserves the proper vessel to enjoy.

Stewart: Absolutely

Warren: And I don’t you know the idea of this I was, you know, I’ve almost gotten to traveling with stemware. Almost because while I will travel with wine but then I show up somewhere and I wind up with these big heavy big lip glasses and I just.

Stewart:  I’m going to get you one of my wine travel bags.

Warren: Well I’ve actually got a VingardeValise that I used to carry and I’ve got a glass insert for it so I can but that means I’m taking space of two bottles but I think I’m willing to give that  up now. So as we complete I’m wondering what your favourite decanter is.

Stewart: My favourite decanter again. Kind of like picking a favourite child. We have over sixty decanters in the collection.

Warren: Really?

Stewart: And all the decanters do the exact same thing they’re going to do three things that it does for wine, one of my favourites is the Swan that’s here

Warren: Because I was wondering if that was going to be.

Stewart: Fairly lazy as it can be and I can actually reach from here and pour four people all the way around my table.

Warren: Oh Okay.

Stewart: But just you can’t do it without having to move around. I love the Eve which here is on the back here beside us as well. Because of the intricacy of using it.

Warren: The ceremony of it.

Stewart: It’s different decanters for different situations as far as I’m concerned there is no varietal specific decanter, you can put any wine you want into it.

Warren: Do people decant champagne?

Stewart: Yes.

Warren: Okay,

Stewart: Maximilian does, it’s one of those things that draws strange looks from some folks but as you decant the champagne you’re actually mitigating some of the bubble and some of the acidity on the front end and then you really beginning to smell the base wine that it’s made from.

Warren: Okay, So lastly if people want to do one of these great varietal-specific taste things that I did and learned more about your product where would they go to do that?

Stewart: Well, there’s two ways to do it. You can go straight to and to our tasting calendar and you can find a tasting near you.

Warren: Okay.

Stewart: But if you’re going to host one yourself and you want to do an event for forty people reach out to us to as well and we’ll be happy to work with you too put one together in your area.

Warren: Perfect Okay.  Thank you. You know I could honestly, we try to keep these in fifteen minutes but you and I could sit here and talk for hours. I love your product. I’ve found the whole thing since we did that first tasting really, really fascinating and the more that I’ve had great wines inside of great vessels produced by Riedel, the more it’s really added to my enjoyment of wine over the years.

So cheers to that. You guys have a tremendous product and thank you for coming in and sharing this bottle of 17- 11-70 quote Esther Nel in the great Elton John I am decanter so on behalf of Behind Fine Wine, thank you for joining us today and we look forward to our next edition. Thank you. Cheers.