The Irony of Wine Glasses in France!


My lovely wife isn’t going to like this! A confirmed, committed Francophile who lived in several different parts of France, she won’t hear of any criticism of our neighbours, the French. And, following many visits with Claire-Marie guiding, I have to say that I’m also of a similar disposition.

The, perhaps incomparable, beauty of so many areas of France; the polite, courteousness of the people; the culture; the history; the architecture; the cuisine; and yes, of course, the wine – well who wouldn’t love la belle France?

And I’ve explained to her, that what’s following is for the benefit of the French – it’s criticism yes, but constructive, with a view to helping us all. But I’m walking a tightrope here – we’ll see how it turns out!

You have probably heard of the French Paradox, a phrase born of the 80s and defined thus by Wikipedia:

the apparently paradoxical epidemiological observation that French people have a relatively low incidenceof coronary heart disease (CHD), while having a diet relatively rich in saturated fats, in apparent contradiction to the widely held belief that the high consumption of such fats is a risk factor for CHD. The paradox is that if the thesis linking saturated fats to CHD is valid, the French ought to have a higher rate of CHD than comparable countries where the per capita consumption of such fats is lower.”

Well, our recent fantastic (bar one tiny, perhaps insignificant disappointment, darling, which I’m coming to here!) four week visit suggested to me, another French Paradox. For a country which purports to, and indeed certainly does, make excellent, often benchmark wines, there is a worrying scarcity in many restaurants (in fact all the ones we visited) of suitable wine glasses! There – I’ve said it! Now it’s time to hold my breath!

To me it’s fundamental – quality wine is best appreciated when it is served in suitable glasses. I was therefore surprised (and a tiny, weeny bit disappointed, honey!) when, absolutely invariably, the glass did nothing at all for the wine in the restaurants and bars we visited – and this includes Saint Emilion! Why?

Perhaps the worst example / no chance of swirling and sniffing using the glass!

Now, I know that one can go some way over the top when it comes to ‘suitable’ wine glasses. I was a touch cynical some years ago when invited to a wine tasting where, I was assured, I would be astonished at the difference Riedl glasses made to wine appreciation. Nevertheless I arrived with an open mind as well as an open notebook.

They were right – I was astonished, and indeed wrote about my conversion (to a point) in Cork Talk.

We started with a Chardonnay, Spanish I think, served in a conventional, good quality, tall, nicely shaped wine glass. Alongside it, the same wine but in a Riedl Chardonnay glass. The difference, for the better, when tasting from the Riedl glass compared to the other, was remarkable.

There were more examples to come, all ‘proving’ the same. However, the most marked difference was with the typical, and lovely Spanish ‘balloon’ brandy glass, where Riedl’s Cognac glass, which looked nothing like the balloon at all, was so much better, I wondered if some sleight of hand had been employed, a different brandy substituted! It hadn’t, and I became a believer – for sure.

There are of course problems with this, as I’m sure many of you are thinking. Surely we can’t all be expected to have a special set of glasses for Chardonnay, another for Cabernet Sauvignon, another for Albariño etc etc. And what about wines which are blends of different varieties?

However, Riedl, as well as other producers who have jumped on the glass-wagon, as you might expect, have this covered too. They all produce what can be referred to as ‘catch-all’ glasses, that is glasses in their range that will be suitable, for example, for most whites, most reds etc.

Well all this seems to have escaped the attention of many French restaurateurs – to my chagrin (see, I do try and speak French, Sugar!), and that of the chateaux whose wines are so lamentably let down!

When proper sized and shaped glasses are used, everyone’s a winner! Twitter @colinonwine Facebook Colin Harkness